Darien school board flouts FOI with executive sessions
Updated 3:45 pm, Friday, May 19, 2017
DARIEN — The school board’s $95.8 operating budget was approved for the 2017-2018 school year, but not without outcry from constituents for more transparency.
Last week, the Representative Town Meeting approved a 2.16 percent increase in the district’s operating budget, as well as $3.25 million in capital expenses, but an RTM member requested more information at a school board afterwards.
Lee said he approved the budget because he feels there’s a need for more space in the high school cafeteria, referring to a highly debated plan to expand the dining area for $1.4 million.
“I implore the board going forward, you have to increase the information flow and dialogue,” he added. “Otherwise it's not going to be as easy as it was this time.”
Superintendent Dan Brenner defended the board for only releasing information when they felt ready.
“There's been a lot of conversation about the board not delivering information the way the community wants,” Brenner said. “I don’t think that’s what this is about at all. I think this is a thoughtful board who's able to stand up during times and give the information we think the town is ready for. As difficult as last night was, it was very validating because I think collectively we stood up.”
The complaint came after a reporter for the Darien News was denied entry into a vote for the board to go into executive session. Board chairman Michael Harman said the board votes to go into executive session amongst themselves and wouldn’t release more information on why the board was going into executive session.
“You need to open the meeting in public, state the reason [for going into executive session] and vote on that reason,” said Connecticut Freedom of Information public education officer Tom Hennick. “They’re way off. They’ve got to do it in public whether they like it or not.”
The board has gone into executive session before all but two regular meetings since the start of the school year. The reason cited each time was attorney/client communication. The minutes from these executive sessions were not available online, but board members voted to approve the minutes from these sessions during open meetings.