Friday, May 23, 2014

Can Price Skype In?

The FCPS Budget may Hang in the Balance. 

21st century society seems to change with each technological advance. And the law must keep up. But that change takes time. In the interim, when the line between what is legally acceptable and what is not gets fuzzy, folks tend to do what makes sense. As long as new solutions are not challenged, they may become common practice, even if they are technically illegal. Such may be the case with members of public boards using Skype (or similar teleconferencing technologies) to "attend" meetings virtually.
  • Are there limits to one's virtual participation?
  • How many members can Skype in at one time?  ...all of them?
  • Can a quorum be established if there are no members physically present?
  • Could unrestrained virtual participation become a way to circumvent the Open Meetings Law?
  • Do remote locations have to be open to the public?  ...including someone's hospital room?
  • FCPS Board Chair John Price
  • What does it mean to be "present" under the law?
Most superintendents follow guidance on tricky issues of school administration from the Kentucky Department of Education or the Kentucky School Boards Association. But what if they disagree?

In the present circumstance KSBA has advised Fayette County Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton that it is OK for a member of the FCPS Board of Education to "attend" a public meeting virtually.

KDE says a member may listen, watch, and participate in a board meeting via Skype, but the board member cannot count toward the establishment of a quorum and cannot vote.

KSBA spokesperson Brad Hughes told KSN&C (via email):
Kentucky law allows any member of an elected body to participate in a public meeting via video conference. It's specifically in the statute.  I know of several instances in which school board members have participated in board meetings via video conference, although I can't say whether Skype specifically was used. It's rare, but not unheard of.

The critical point is that the offsite participant must be able to participate visually as well as audio wise. For example, if the video conference link goes down, the meeting should be suspended until it is restored.

Elected officials may participate in a meeting via a telephone conference but only to the extent of listening, i.e, they couldn't vote via phone, only by video conference.

I've seen news stories of fiscal court and town council members who have done the same, but I can't cite you a locale.  But whoever is suggesting there is a legal debate probably isn't aware of the statute and the specific language allowing such a participation.
Stay tuned. This one's not over. I'll add information as it becomes available.

This from H-L:

Ailing Fayette school board chairman will attend budget meeting via Skype

Fayette County school board Chairman John Price will participate in a crucial budget meeting next week through videoconference from the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center, where he had a bone marrow transplant, he said Thursday.

The meeting, set for 6 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the 2014-15 budget that was voted down Monday, will originate from the district's Central Office on East Main with vice chairwoman Melissa Bacon presiding.

Price said he had not decided how he would vote on the $426.9 million tentative budget, which was rejected Monday by board members Amanda Ferguson and Doug Barnett and ultimately was not approved. Ferguson and Barnett have said they won't vote for the budget if staffing cuts to band and orchestra programs are not restored. The two are also concerned about cuts to special education, which were among $19 million in proposed reductions. Under state law, the budget must be approved by May 30.

"Before we make a final decision, we have to get the input from the other board members who are not in favor of the present budget," Price said. "Hopefully we can talk through the issues and determine if any modifications can be made" that would address Barnett and Ferguson's concerns, get the support of other board members and stay within the budget constraints that the district faces.

Bacon and Daryl Love voted for the budget Monday night. Price, the fifth member, was absent. He had been carrying out duties remotely from home because doctors said he should stay away from public gatherings while he was waiting for a bone marrow transplant to treat a blood disorder that has become leukemia. Price has not physically been present at a meeting since November. He has been monitoring meetings and participating by speaker phone, but up to this point he has not been voting.

After seeing what happened with the budget Monday, Price said he asked Superintendent Tom Shelton if he would be able to vote via Skype. Shelton said Wednesday he determined that it would be legally allowed going forward.

"We have to have a budget," said Price. "We can't serve our students without a budget."

Price, who has been on the school board since 2003, said he had the bone marrow transplant May 14. He said he had anticipated being able to physically attend school board meetings before now, but a bone marrow transplant scheduled for March was postponed. Price said his recovery has been promising.

"We're hoping that I'm on the road to recovery and I will be able to return. ... I wish I was further along than I am, but I'm grateful to be where I am," said Price, whose term ends in December 2016. "If it looked like I wouldn't be able to recover, then obviously I would step aside."

Read more here:

This from WKYT:

Worries from teachers, parents, and students about school budget cuts
With time running out to come up with a budget, the Fayette County Board of Education has scheduled a special meeting for next Wednesday. Earlier this week board members couldn't agree on Superintendent Tom Shelton's budget which included cuts to fix a $20 million deficit. Some parents and students told us they're worried about the proposed cuts. A couple thousand students are involved in it in the whole district. Band is something to celebrate among Fayette County Public Schools.

"It's pretty much been my whole high school career outside of academics," said Rebecca Palmer, a senior band student at Henry Clay High School.

Threats of any, big or small, cuts to band and orchestra programs have people at every level upset and worried.

"If 25 kids at one elementary don't get band, then that's 25 kids that don't go onto middle school and play band because that's really where it starts," said Amanda Ferguson, a school board member.

"I think the major worry is the impact that it has on some of the full-time employees," said Bill Kite, the band director at Henry Clay High School. "I know five or six have been reduced from full-time to part-time."

School officials tell us the cuts between band and orchestra district wide equal 3.3 positions. That adds up to $198,000 of the $426 million budget.

But that doesn't mean three people. 3.3 is the total when you add up cuts from instructional days and travel time. To put it in perspective, one instructional day equals .2 and travel time being .1. Those are what are being cut from a few teachers.

Parents, teachers, and board members have expressed that they don't want cuts to affect students. And this way school officials say they won't.

"It's hard to see, and I know that cuts have to be made," said Palmer. "But I hope that they keep band kids in mind and all the arts for that matter."

Right now isn't the concern for some. It's the future of music education in Fayette County.

"I think that's my concern is that what happens from here and where we go," said Kite.

That next meeting is only two days before the May 30th deadline to adopt a new budget plan. The board's chair, who has been battling cancer and did not attend Monday's meeting, will participate this time via Skype.
It is the last issue that has become a point of contention...or at least, differing legal opinions.Talks are ongoing.

In the meantime, following Monday's BOE dust up, Shelton sent a well-crafted letter to the community that is conciliatory and surely meant to allay escalating public fears.

This from FCPS Supt. Tom Shelton:

In an effort to maintain open lines of communication between home and school, here is an important message from Fayette County Public Schools.

Dear FCPS Families:

As you are aware, our school district has worked this spring to develop a spending plan for the 2014-15 school year based on just 95 percent of our current revenue.  Our families, students, community members and employees have actively engaged in excellent conversations about this issue and that feedback was used to develop a proposed tentative budget.  Thank you for your active participation in this important process through emails, phone calls, conversations, online submissions and public comments at meetings.

Under state law, we are required to adopt a budget no later than May 30.  However, after a passionate debate on Monday, our school board did not approve the proposal that had been developed. I just wanted to follow up with you to let you know that the Fayette County Board of Education will meet on May 28, 2014, to reconsider a spending plan for next school year.

We have received a request from School Board Chairman John Price to participate in the meeting by teleconferencing from the hospital.  Many of you know that John has been ill, but has remained actively involved in issues with the district, participating in board meetings through conference calls and recordings.  He was even with us “virtually” during our budget listening sessions!  Please join me in keeping John close in thought and prayer as he continues to recover.  It's encouraging that he feels strong enough to participate next week.

Although it can be difficult, I firmly believe that debate and disagreement are healthy for an organization.  We have to be able to discuss concerns openly and ask tough questions.  But in the end, our job as adults is to put our differences aside and do what's best for children. I have deep respect for each of our school board members and firmly believe that we will come together as a team to reach a consensus on the tentative budget.

Thank you for all you do every day to partner with our district for the good of all students!


Tom Shelton, PhD
Fayette County Public Schools

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