Both the ACLU and the Nevada Press Association objected on Friday to a regulation that would exempt parent-teacher teams who do business for individual schools from requirements of the open meeting law.
The exemption is contained in the regulation designed to completely reorganize the Clark County School District, giving much more power to principals, teachers, staff and parents in individual schools. That power would be operated through “organizational teams” at each school that would have a say in everything at the school including budgets.
But while Section 26 of the regulation says those meetings must be open except when confidential information is discussed, it states those meetings aren’t subject to the open meeting statute.
Holly Welborn of the ACLU said a regulation exempting any agency from a statutory requirement is a dangerous precedent she and Press Association Director Barry Smith said is illegal and can only be done by the Legislature itself.
They questioned how the teams would decide what’s confidential and when to close a meeting to the public.
“I think that does supercede the authority of the Legislature,” Smith said.
Welborn said the regulation opens the door to any regulatory body to make similar exemptions.
“Exemptions under the open meeting law are reserved to the Legislature,” she said.
Smith said much of the discussion of the regulation centers on the efforts to increase parental involvement but that same regulation allows the teams to close their doors to concerned parents.
“You can’t have it both ways,” he said.
Commission Chairman Michael Roberson argued that creating the organizational teams actually creates much more transparency than currently exists in the school district. He said at present, neither teachers nor parents have any say in budget and school policy issues.
After it was pointed out to the commission they can’t amend a proposed regulation, only pass it or reject it, the body approved the regulation with the open meeting exemption.
It was one of the final points the panel took up as they reorganized the Clark County School District.
The move triggers a radical and rapid reorganization that will put principals and school-level volunteer boards in charge of about 80 percent of the money flowing to their schools by the 2017-2018 school year. Proponents hope it will make the 357 public schools in the Las Vegas area more responsive to more than 320,000 students.
“I’ve never seen a bill that creates such dramatic change receive such unanimous support,” said Roberson, who chairs the commission.
Die-hard opponents have warmed to the idea during the 14-month process of fine-tuning the plan. Through about 20 public meetings, it evolved into an “empowerment” model that gives principals authority over hiring decisions and their operational budgets.
They can buy the services they need a la carte from the divisions of central district administration. Associate school superintendents would oversee 25 schools, and those associates answer to the district superintendent.
Proponents of the reorganization plan say it will cut out bureaucracy and argue something bold had to be done to improve the state’s bottom-ranking public school system.
Critics wonder whether the restructuring will distribute resources equitably, and are nervous about a timeline they say is short for implementing the plan. On Friday, Democratic Sen. Kelvin Atkinson asked whether there was a way lawmakers could “pump the brakes” on the reorganization if problems arise.
Roberson said lawmakers could change the law as necessary going forward, including when they reconvene in Spring 2017.
Proponents emphasized that it already had a thorough vetting.
“I can’t think of a time we’ve had more input, more legislators involved, than this bill,” said Republican Assemblyman Lynn Stewart.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.