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Baltimore panel recommending school board candidates violated Open Meetings Act

A panel considering candidates for Baltimore’s school board violated the state’s Open Meetings Act by not informing the public of its November 2017 meetings, a state board has ruled.

Baltimore City Public School Board Community Panel met to discuss the public’s business without notifying citizens, the state’s Open Meetings Compliance Board found in an opinion issued this month.

The sole purpose of the panel, which was created by a new state law, is to recommend candidates for Baltimore’s school board to Mayor Catherine Pugh. In her successful run for mayor, Pugh campaigned on taking back mayoral control of the city’s public schools.

But the Open Meetings Compliance Board ruled that the panel illegally excluded the public from its recommendation process by failing to publicize when it was meeting.

“We find that the Panel violated [the law] in November 2017 by meeting without giving notice,” the compliance board wrote. “For the reasons stated above, we have asked the City to provide this opinion to the Panel when it is next formed, in time for the Panel to provide notice and take any steps preparatory to closing part of its meeting, if the Panel chooses to do so.”

Melissa Schober, the parent of a Baltimore public school student, filed the complaint against the panel after she learned its members were meeting in secret without advising the public.

“I feel validated,” Schober said of the board’s findings. “I’m not sure it will make a ton of difference in practice. But given that my options are limited, this is what I could do. People should see who’s being considered to lead a $1 billion budget in our school system.”

In letters to the compliance board, both Pugh’s office and the school system said they were not responsible for the panel’s actions or compliance with the law.

A spokesman for the mayor said she would share the compliance board opinion with members of the panel the next time she reconvenes it.

The panel, which was created by state law, is made up of representatives from the city teachers union, the mayor’s office, the City Council’s education committee, charter schools, Parent Teacher Associations, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.

City Councilman Zeke Cohen, who is chairman of the council’s education committee, which has a seat on the panel, said he would push for increased transparency.

“Parents, students and educators deserve a voice in determining who will govern our schools,” he said.

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