For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Bob Cooper
Date: February 22, 2008
Attorney General Completes Investigation of State Board of Education Executive Session
(Boise) – Attorney General Lawrence Wasden today released the report of his office’s investigation of an Open Meeting Law complaint against the Idaho State Board of Education. The Attorney General discussed his findings during a news conference in Boise this morning. The Attorney General is charged with enforcing the Open Meeting Law with regard to entities of state government.
On December 12, 2007, Betsy Russell, a reporter with The Spokesman-Review, filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, alleging that the State Board of Education had violated the Idaho Open Meeting Law. The Idaho Allied Dailies submitted a companion complaint on December 19, 2007, incorporating Ms. Russell’s complaint by reference.
The complaint alleged that the Board violated the Open Meeting Law by:
The investigation of this matter included, among other things, a review of the minutes, agendas, and audio recordings of the Board’s meetings, as well as personal interviews with all Board members.
FACTUAL FINDINGS OF THE INVESTIGATION
The investigation found the following facts with regard to the Board’s meeting.
One of the first topics raised at the December 6, 2007, executive session was the need to fill several key staff vacancies at the Board, including the positions of Chief Fiscal Officer, Academic Officer, and Executive Director. Board President Milford Terrell noted that the Board was prevented from filling those vacancies due to a financial shortfall of approximately $800,000. Terrell and Mike Rush, the Interim Executive Director, informed the Board that the budget shortfall continued to stand in the way of filling key staff positions. In conjunction with that comment, Mr. Terrell and Mr. Rush noted that the Board would probably have to cut 9th grade ISAT testing to eliminate the budget shortfall, because this step would save approximately $850,000.
The discussion regarding the Board vacancies, budget shortfall, and 9th grade ISAT testing was very brief, lasting an estimated three to four minutes. The justification provided by the interviewed Board members for this discussion in the executive session was that the topic was directly related to the issue of hiring staff at OSBE and the ongoing critical need for key personnel.
The Board did not make any decision regarding these issues during the executive session and did not vote on these issues.
When interviewed by the Attorney General’s Office, Mr. Rush said that he unilaterally made the decision to direct the contractor to stop work on the 9th grade testing and that he believed he had the authority to make that decision. Mr. Rush and the Board’s communications officer decided to issue a press release announcing that the 9th grade testing had been eliminated.
The Board subsequently scheduled a special meeting with proper notice and agenda and, on December 20, 2007, voted in public session to eliminate 9th grade testing.
LEGAL FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS OF THE INVESTIGATION
The Attorney General’s Office reached the following conclusions from the investigation:
Consistent with these findings, the Attorney General’s Office considers this investigation and matter closed.
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