Most of the Minneapolis Public Schools board met in secret on Thursday for a leadership-building meeting, saying the personal issues on the agenda didn’t warrant open-meeting status.
Minneapolis schools closed the meeting hours before its start, citing precedence from across the river. In November, state Department of Administration Commissioner Matthew Massman issued a ruling that St. Paul Public Schools could conduct closed meetings on topics including problem-solving and communications among members with a facilitator — as long as they don’t touch on board business.
St. Paul schools wouldn’t overstep the state’s open meetings law “if they are not ‘gathering to discuss, decide or receive information as a group relating to ‘the official business’ of the governing body,’ ” Massman said in his opinion.
On the agenda for Thursday’s board retreat was leadership capacity building, including how the board works together, said school board Chairwoman Rebecca Gagnon.
“You can have a freer conversation if there’s not people sitting and listening and jotting notes, and potentially writing a story,” she said in a hallway at the start of the meeting.
The meeting was publicly noticed on Monday afternoon as an open meeting, and the subject was tentatively described as “individual board member profile and assessment.”
On Thursday morning, board executive assistant Jennifer Lindquist sent an e-mail that the open meeting was canceled. The meeting continued in a closed session Thursday evening. Gagnon asked two reporters who entered the room to leave.
The session was facilitated by Jonathan Bucki and Yoshiko Chino of Dendros Group, facilitators selected by Gagnon. In addition to the board members, Superintendent Ed Graff and school board administrator Jesse Winkler were also in the meeting.
The agenda included conversations about barriers to “advancing our shared work,” as well as time for reflection. There was no district business on the agenda, said Tonya Tennessen, the district’s chief communications director. Legal counsel reviewed it, she said.
“Tonight’s conversation is about coming together as a new board and enhancing constructive, working relationships,” she said in an e-mail.
The Minneapolis school board has previously discussed personal issues during board retreats, which are typically publicly noticed meetings. At an August retreat’s team-building activity, members talked about how their experiences helped form their educational views.
This iteration of the school board is still in its infancy. Board members Ira Jourdain, KerryJo Felder and Bob Walser officially joined the board on the same January evening that Gagnon was elected chairwoman.
A 2015 Star Tribune article found through e-mails that district officials had taken the trouble to make sure that the state’s open meeting laws wouldn’t be set off by informational sessions.
Former Minneapolis school board chairman Tom Madden said he isn’t a fan of the closed meeting. When he was in charge of the board, he said, the board worked through personality types in public.
“The more you can have everything out in public, the more you have 100 percent trust from the public,” he said.