Wareham School Committee to vote again on Minot School closing after potential open meeting violation

Apr 26, 2018

After a potential open meeting law violation called into question a decision that closed Minot Forest Elementary School, School Committee members will meet on Friday, April 27 to reconfirm the vote.

On Monday, School Committee members met an hour before Town Meeting to finalize the district’s budget, which included a decision to close the school as a cost-saving measure. Because the school closing vote wasn’t on the agenda, committee member Michael Flaherty reached out to state officials.

“Immediately after the vote, however, the Chair looked for a motion to vote to close the aforementioned elementary school,” Flaherty wrote in an email to the state’s Attorney General’s office. “At that point I made it clear to the Chair that this item was not on the agenda and therefore we were not able to formally and legally vote on it at this time.”

Flaherty noted he wasn’t filing a formal complaint, but was seeking guidance. The state's open meeting law governs what officials may and may not discuss in open session and sets regulations for the posting of meetings.

“The final resulting (and valid) votes may all work out to be the same as we had last night, but it is important that we get the process right so it doesn't come back and haunt us later,” Flaherty wrote in an email to School Committee Chair Joyce Bacchiocchi.

At Town Meeting, voters approved a $29 million school budget, which will result in layoffs and other cost cutting measures. In an email to the Attorney General’s office, Flaherty said residents should have been notified.

“I noted that not only did the public not know that we were going to make this vote at this meeting, more importantly, there was no guarantee that Town Meeting voters would accept the number that the School Committee decided upon and whatever they ultimately voted could change everything,” he wrote. “For example, if Town Meeting voters decided to increase the Committee's budget, then it could have possibly changed the whole discussion on whether or not we had to close a school.”

In a response, Assistant Attorney General Hanne Rush said his office couldn’t weigh in on a potential violation, but urged Flaherty to err on the side of caution.

“As a best practice our office strongly encourages a public body to postpone any discussion of controversial topics or topics that garner public interest until they can be properly listed on a meeting notice,” Rush wrote.

Also on Friday’s School Committee agenda is a vote on how to realign the grades in light of the school closing.

The School Committee will meet at 5:15 p.m. in the Wareham Middle School auditorium, located at 4 Viking Drive.