Why It Took So Long To Approve School Committee Minutes. And McDonald Resigns


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Jennifer Shiao’s School Committee Blog

Editor’s note: Jennifer Shiao is a member of the Amherst School Committee. Her original posts can be found here.  An archive of her blog posts in The Indy can be found here.

Happy Wednesday! It seems like it’s been ages since my last post and yet it’s only been two days! Let’s jump right in.

Allison McDonald has submitted her resignation from the Amherst School Committee (and thus also the Regional School Committee (RSC)). In a her resignation notice, which she forwarded to both School Committees (SC), she said:

“While I’ve endured the challenging and at times toxic climate of Amherst public life, I am no longer able to do so. 
I hope that Amherst will move forward and commit to dynamic civic dialogue without the vitriol that’s characterized this past year, and I look forward to contributing to our community in other capacities.”

The Town Council will need to meet to determine a timeline for filling this vacancy. I can only presume that they will fill both this vacancy and the vacancy left when Ben Herrington resigned, simultaneously.

Next, why did the School Committees need over 2.5 hours last night to approve the meeting minutes from the August 17 meeting?

Taking accurate minutes is not easy. The Amherst Regional Public Schools staff member who took minutes for the August 17 meeting (at which we discussed the separation agreement of Superintendent Michael Morris) did a great job at capturing the discussion and debate, but it’s inevitable that in a discussion as complex as this, details will get missed.

The purpose of minutes is to have an accurate record of what transpired. SC members were sent the draft minutes on Tuesday, and I reviewed them and made suggested changes on my own before last night’s meeting. While going through the minutes, what I kept in mind is that one, two, 10 years from now, when someone reads these minutes, they need to be able to have an accurate understanding of what transpired.

When the SCs went into Executive Session, Peter Demling opened up the document and we edited it on the fly. My suggested changes and Demling’s suggested changes were already incorporated. (I had sent my suggested changes to Demling and RSC Vice Chair Sarahbess Kenney on Tuesday).

We went through paragraph by paragraph, to make sure the minutes accurately reflected what we said. We suggested edits, discussed the edits, and came to consensus on each edit.

We were notified by Marc Terry, the attorney for the school district and the School Committee, that we had the option of redacting only those portions of the minutes that reflected his advice to us, and claim attorney-client privilege. After some discussion, and after reviewing the entire document, the committees agreed not to redact anything that could be covered under attorney-client privilege. To be clear, nothing has been redacted from the minutes. I think this was a good and right decision, and I’m glad we all came to consensus about it.

After we made edits to the full document, Demling created a final “clean” version which he emailed to us, then we took a break so that we could review the clean document.

When we came back, we decided that we wanted to get the minutes out to the public as soon as possible, and therefore we would not worry about things like inconsistently naming individuals (first name, last name, first last), small typos, extra spaces, etc.

We voted unanimously to approve the minutes and publish them. It was a very collaborative effort, and it seemed to me that all members took seriously the task of making sure the minutes accurately reflected what transpired.

It was a slow process, but it definitely kept moving. We took exactly the amount of time we needed to make sure that the discussion of Morris’s separation agreement would be accurately reflected.

This blog reflects my own views about the Amherst and Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committees – it does not represent the view of the committees, the district, or the superintendent. This blog complies with Open Meeting Law, as long as a quorum of School Committee members do not engage in deliberations in the comments. Comments are welcome. I may respond to comments, but I will not respond to all comments. Sign up here using the “follow blog via email” form to be notified when I post a new entry.  You can email me at jennifer@jenniferamherst.org.

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