In a special meeting Tuesday night, members of the Lemont-Bromberek District 113A Board of Education discussed whether to continue posting documents related to board agendas online for public viewing, as the district had in the past.
In July, school district officials discovered that private documents dating back to October 2008 had somehow become visible to the public on BoardDocs, a paperless document management system that allows government entities to manage documents such as agendas, board minutes, financial statements and presentations online.
After conducting an investigation, district officials concluded later that month that the public access of items such as closed-session minutes on BoardDocs was “unrelated to staff actions.”
But since the conclusion of the investigation, members of the public have been unable to view documents related to the agenda on the school district’s website prior to board of education meetings.
“When the agenda is posted, there is nothing available to the public,” said board member Al Malley at Tuesday’s meeting. I’d like to find a comfortable medium.”
Malley said he thought it would make sense to move routine items such as accounts payable and payroll to the board’s consent agenda.
“But as far as what the public can see prior to the meeting, that’s up for discussion,” Malley said.
The use of BoardDocs originated in 2007, according Sandra Larek, administrative assistant to the superintendent. She said before that time, managing, copying and distributing documents to administrators and board members was a burdensome process. Using BoardDocs made the process more efficient, Larek said.
Superintendent Susan Birkenmaier, who took the reins as District 113A Superintendent July 1, said she thought the use of BoardDocs was “unique to Lemont-Bromberek,” and she didn’t know of any school districts that posts documents publicly before the board is able to view and discuss them.
Birkenmaier said that when the board was set to discuss development of a long-range strategic plan this summer, she was “a little surprised” when she read about the outline of the plan in the newspaper before she presented it. The superintendent’s presentation had been posted on BoardDocs prior to the meeting.
You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone …
As the board’s discussion continued, Malley worried aloud that the unavailability of public documents could negatively affect the public’s perception of the board’s transparency.
“It’s hard to have the information out there, and all of a sudden, there is nothing,” said Malley.
“I never saw a problem,” echoed board member Michael Aurelio. I don’t have any problem being transparent.”
But Board President Dave Molitor said he would prefer allowing board members to view the contents of documents before a meeting, then “put it out there the next day” for members of the public.
“This is our meeting,” said Molitor. “It’s not like we are withholding information. What’s the point of letting the public see it first?”
After several minutes of discussion, board members seemed to reach consensus on reinstating the board’s practice of using BoardDocs to post documents online for viewing by the public.
“I don’t think the intent was to not have anything out there,” Molitor said. “We will continue to make items available to the public.”