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Board may change schedule, begin monthly work sessions

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School Board is considering a change in its meeting schedule.

The board discussed the change at its meeting Monday afternoon but took no action. A decision will be made in January at the board's reorganization meeting.

The board currently meets on the second and fourth Monday in most months. It meets once a month in December, March, June and July.

The new schedule would have one formal board meeting a month throughout the year, on the second Monday of each month. On the fourth Monday in most months, the board would hold a work session to discuss issues coming to the board in the future.

The work sessions would be open to the public, but it's not clear whether they would be shown on local cable channels. When asked if they would be televised, Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said, "Probably not."

On Tuesday, Board Chairman Mike Carlson said no decisions have been made yet and won't be made until January. In fact, Carlson said he would favor televising the work sessions, though possibly on tape instead of live.

Formal board meetings are shown live on cable channel 18 and rerun later the same night on channel 19. The live cablecasts began Monday.

Carlson said many school boards already follow the one meeting/one work session schedule. He and other board members first heard about it several years ago at a convention. He called the work sessions a chance to gather information and to listen to presentations about innovative ideas in the school districts.

In the past, board meeting agendas have been a combination of routine business and presentations about the district. If the board uses the new schedule, those matters would be shifted to different meetings.

"My vote would be that we do televise these sessions," Carlson said. "I think it would be good for us to show it, and I anticipate we will do that."

Several board members said Monday that they would be in favor of making the switch.

"I've been a proponent of this for some time," said board member Wayne Lenzmeier, because the workshop meetings would give board members a chance to discuss matters before voting on them.

Kjergaard said he had experience with a similar schedule. He estimated that the work sessions would last from one to three hours, and board meetings would last from 30 minutes to an hour with the new schedule.

The Minnesota Open Meeting Law does not distinguish between board meetings and work sessions, said Mark Anfinson, an attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association. If there is a quorum present, and members discuss public information, they are bound by all requirements of the law. That fact was acknowledged by the School Board on Monday.

There is nothing in the law to require meetings to be televised, and nothing that prevents a board from adopting such a schedule, he said.

However, Anfinson believes it can lead to a reduction in the amount of discussion and deliberation viewed by the public. "It's a troubling trend in the loss of public information," he added.