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Legislator files open meetings complaint against Maryland State Board of Education for private vote on superintendent raise

A state delegate says the Maryland State Board of Education violated open meetings law when it failed to give the public notice that it was meeting in private in June to vote on the superintendent’s contract and pay raise, according to a complaint filed by the lawmaker.

Del. Eric Luedtke, a Democrat representing Montgomery County, has filed a complaint with the state board that oversees Open Meetings Act compliance, saying the board has repeatedly violated the act by failing to tell the public the subject of closed door meetings.

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He particularly focused on the awarding of a new contract to Karen Salmon, who had held the job for four years, and recently got another one year contract that pays her $275,000, a $40,000 or 17 percent raise.

“The board’s handling of this situation was entirely inappropriate,” Luedtke said. “Leave aside how grotesque it is to increase the salary of the superintendent when Marylanders are losing their homes and school systems are in hiring freezes, it’s clear that all of these discussions were intentionally hidden from the public.”

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Salmon announced last fall that she would retire rather than seek another four year contract from the board. The board had begun a national search for a new leader, but then abruptly halted that search in March when it announced in a press release that Salmon had agreed to stay on. In Maryland, the state board of education, not the governor, hires the state superintendent, usually for a four-year term. The board is appointed by the governor.

At its June 23rd meeting, the state school board held a closed-door session and voted on the contract. Maryland law requires that public boards specify why they are doing business behind closed doors and the subject of the discussion. School boards are allowed to discuss hiring behind closed doors because it is considered a “personnel matter,” but traditionally boards will take a formal vote in public as well as turn over the employment contract which includes salary information and other compensation.

In this case, the board did not vote in public on the contract amendment and did not announce that it was gong to be discussed. The only public acknowledgment that there had been a vote on Salmon’s contract came in the minutes of the board meeting that were approved at the next meeting a month later.

Because the superintendent oversees the education of nearly a million school children, Luedtke said the public has a right to “participate in discussions of who serves in that position.”

The education department and the state board said they “remain committed to operating with transparency, integrity and inclusiveness. We are currently reviewing the complaint and will respond as requested to the Open Meetings Compliance Board.”

On July 1, The Baltimore Sun asked the Maryland State Department of Education what Salmon’s salary was going to be, and for a copy of the contract.

Despite the fact that most local school system’s turn over that information within hours after it is requested, the education department treated the request as a public information act request giving them 30 days to respond.

Department officials only turned over the contract this month after the newspaper asked for help from Maryland’s Public Access Ombudsman’s office.

“The Board, the Superintendent, and MSDE intentionally excluded the public entirely from the decision-making process, and did their best to hide that fact by delaying the response to (The Sun’s) PIA request,” Luedtke said.

The legislator also pointed out several other instances where he believes the board did not announce the subject of its closed door sessions in public.

The state board of education has 30 days to respond to the Open Meetings Compliance Board, which will issue an opinion 30 days after it receives the response from the public body. The board’s opinions are advisory, and it can not issue penalties.

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