To allow for "more robust discussions," the Lakeville school board has decided to stop broadcasting and recording work sessions in which members discuss district issues but do not take votes.
It's a disappointing move, especially during a pandemic in which students and families are even more hungry for information on board decisionmaking. In the interest of transparency and greater understanding about school operations, the board should reconsider.
About six years ago, the Lakeville board started livestreaming and recording its work meetings, but voted on Jan. 6 to stop the practice. School board chairwoman Judy Keliher, superintendent Michael Baumann and several board members objected to recording the sessions because members were often "uncomfortable speaking their minds" with a camera rolling, according to a Star Tribune news story.
They also argued that few people watched the live sessions and that the district could save money by not having a cameraperson recording them. And they said they would continue taping regular meetings where board members take formal votes and give summaries of what happened at work sessions.
Still, the minimal funds spent on keeping the public informed is money well spent. In addition, school families and residents need to see how discussions on issues are going so they can offer feedback before formal board votes. This kind of retreat from full transparency is not new among area school boards, as the Star Tribune Editorial Board has previously pointed out.
Minnesota's Open Meeting Law does not require that work or study sessions be broadcast or recorded, but it does say that information about regular board meetings should be available to citizens.
Understandably, there are some times when governing bodies must temporarily close meetings. Current law allows it for reasons such as labor negotiations and personnel matters that could violate employee or student privacy rights.
However, for the most part school board discussions and operations should be open to public scrutiny.
Matt Ehling, a Minnesota Coalition on Government Information board member, told the Star Tribune that Lakeville's decision is "a little bit troubling" and "problematic for oversight."
School boards can meet remotely due to COVID-19, Ehling said, but they must provide a way for the public to monitor both work sessions and regular meetings.
Since the pandemic began, regular board meetings and work sessions in Lakeville have been held in person, with limited seating for the public. Broadcasting and recording those sessions has provided a safe way for residents to monitor board discussions.
The Lakeville board's original decision to broadcast and record work sessions was made to increase transparency. This is the wrong time to provide less, not more, information to the taxpaying public.