Did the last four minutes of a closed-session of the Blue Earth Area School Board violate the state’s Open Meeting Law?
“None whatsoever. The lawyer ruled on it,” says Board chair Frankie Bly. “She called me personally and said you’re just fine.”
But, board member Jeremy Coxworth doesn’t see it that way.
At the last board meeting, Coxworth says discussion of Southern Plains Education Cooperative was allowed after Superintendent Evan Gough’s job performance review was over.
At issue is whether the closed-session was used as a way to discuss the future of Southern Plains in Winnebago or the possibility of it moving to another city.
During the meeting, Coxworth referenced a November e-mail from board member Jesse Haugh that indicated Southern Plains could be moving to Blue Earth.
Coxworth says Haugh was asked at the end of Gough’s evaluation if Southern Plains could be discussed.
“When Jesse says “no” but we’re going to anyway, that makes me question it,” he says.
According to a November meeting agenda, the superintendent’s evaluation was the only item listed for a closed-session.
The state’s Open Meeting Law says, “Before closing a meeting, a public body shall state on the record specific grounds permitting the meeting to be closed and describe the subject to be discussed.”
Although Haugh gave a summary of Gough’s evaluation, which is required by law, there was no mention of the Southern Plains discussion.
Bly says Gough’s review looked at his communication of issues to the board and Southern Plains was among those.
“It was totally open, legitimate and legal,” says Bly. “It was part of the criticism that board members had of him.”
Southern Plains director Sarah Mittlestadt in the past has said this could be the last year the alternative learning center is housed at the Winnebago school.
Mittlestadt says “significant deferred maintenance” issues must be addressed or the cooperative will need to find an alternative location.
When BEA officials decided to close the Winnebago Elementary school, one reason given was “deferred maintenance” costs needed over a 10-year period totaling at least $5 million.
Southern Plains has K-12 students from the school districts of Blue Earth Area; Fairmont Area; Martin County West; Granada-Huntley-East Chain; Truman; and United South Central.