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A Spencer County judge ruled Oct. 9, that the local school board violated Kentucky’s open-meetings law when it conducted a private evaluation of Superintendent Chuck Adams last year. The ruling could set precedent for other such cases across the state.
Spencer Circuit Judge Charles Hickman affirmed the state attorney general’s opinion, when he found state law prohibits the evaluation of a superintendent behind closed doors. The job performance of a public school superintendent is required to be assessed by members of the school board each year, but a district policy indicated the evaluation could be conducted in a closed-session.
Hickman’s nine-page ruling, in part, said the “public’s business” should “be performed before the eyes of the public.” The potential of discipline or dismissal does not meet the personnel exception clause of the Open Meetings law.
“The decision to invoke the personnel exception should occur in a real-world setting, as the board’s discussion unfolds and a probability arises of the discussion leading to the punitive measures of discipline and/or dismissal,” Hickman ruled.
The ruling was delivered after Spencer County school board member Sandy Clevenger sought the Attorney General’s opinion following a 4-1 decision by the board to evaluate Adams in a closed-session, in June 2008.
The school board ultimately approved a 1 percent pay increase for Adams, after evaluating his merits on seven factors.
School board officials had not appealed the ruling as of Friday, according to the Spencer County Circuit Clerk’s office.
Hickman denied Clevenger’s request for damages and attorney fees, since the school board’s action was not a willful violation of the Open Meetings law.
In their challenge of the state attorney’s opinion, the school board found support from a variety of agencies, including the Kentucky Department of Education, Kentucky School Board Association, the Kentucky Association of School Administrators and several educational cooperatives.
Adams has been reported as saying that the issue is about federal privacy laws for superintendents, not about someone’s opinion in the attorney general’s office. Conducting evaluations in public could make districts open to defamation or slander lawsuits.
Clevenger has stated in court documents that school board members were told by a representative of the attorney general’s office during open meetings training that a superintendent evaluation was not a proper topic for closed session.