Question 4 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Enforcing Transparency?

Written By: Robert Cox
  1. Under Dr. Feijóo, since January, the District has refused to fill Freedom of Information requests and, since March, disallowed public comments at regular school board meetings. What is your position on the Board’s role in enforcing transparency?

Adina Berrios Brooks: I have consistently promoted more Board transparency over the past year. Specifically, at pre-COVID Board meetings I consistently advocated for expanded opportunities for public engagement through the re-establishment of Board committees, which were disbanded after June 2019. After the COVID shutdown, I immediately shared with the Board leadership examples of other districts that had created opportunities for public comment.

Katie Castellano Minaya: We cannot just think about the BOE meetings alone, which are by nature already excluding so many people who may not be able to attend for various reasons (work constraints, childcare, language barriers, transportation, feeling of not being listened to). The BOE meetings are just one piece of the puzzle that is family engagement. As a school district, there are many best practices that are helping families feel more engaged. For example, some schools have offered events in the very neighborhoods where families live. Also, school leaders and teachers have found innovative ways to reach out to families using social media and creativity (the examples are endless). The BOE, too, must think of ways we can better listen to families that go above and beyond simple online surveys. Who are the people that are NOT completing surveys, and why? This data tells us just as much as the data gathered in surveys. How can we get creative about permanent committees, Town Halls on specific topics of concern, radio shows, social media? I applaud the district administrators for their responsiveness to emails, yet there are many families for whom that is just not a realistic means to communicate. Let’s build upon the best practices that already exist through many of our schools, PTAs, and community leaders to be more inclusive.

Barbara D’Alois: My platform is Equity and Security for the students; Transparency and Accountability for the community. This is not just lip service. I truly believe that it is the responsibility of the school board to encourage open communication with the entire community that they represent. The board must take input from all groups and weigh all the facts before making a decision. A school board must build public understanding, support and participation. Anyone in the community should expect to have the right not only to speak, but to be heard. How can this happen if the public is not adequately informed. With regards to informing the public, there is a clearly defined process relating to Freedom of Information (FOIL or FOIA) requests. It is incumbent upon the Board to comply with legitimate requests, be it good or bad news. If something is not in the best light, the sooner we address it, the better all around. People make mistakes and sometimes poor choices are made, but when an entity begins to hide things to cover up, it only serves to make it look worse. Most people are understanding enough to read things for what they are. A mistake is a mistake, a cover up is, sometimes, criminal.

Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.

Stephen A. DiDonato: The district has demonstrated one thing over the years. While they recognize and throw the word “transparency” around very casually, they are not familiar with what the term means. This is demonstrated time after time. Ultimately they force the hand of people like Bob Cox to continue to prove and dig.

It is shameful that as a district and as a board, we can not be honest with the very people that we are elected to represent and advocate for.

Sharon D. Footes: The lack of transparency has to first be noted. Then, understand and make clear that board is in violation of the Freedom of Information Act . It is of the uttermost importance that our leaders are always working within the law.

Matthew T. Hirschman: There must be something that they are hiding. The mountainous piles of problems only grow when they aren’t addressed and public information is held hostage by bureaucrats. What could they be hiding?

Michael Leone: Failure to fill legitimate FOIL requests is not only unacceptable, it is illegal. It violates the Freedom of Information Act. If the Superintendent or a member of the Administration is at fault, the Board needs to correct this problem ASAP. If the Board is at fault, it needs to correct its own problem. If it fails after request, we need to recall all of the members ASAP.

Speaking at public meetings presents a different issue. While a government has no right to restrict public speech, except in very limited circumstances, it is not obligated to give the public a forum to speak. While having public comment periods at open meetings is important, the failure to provide a public comments period at each meeting is not necessarily a violation of any law or the First Amendment.

Timothy McKnight: Transparency is extremely important for any Board that one sits on. We have seen major backlash from the community due to the lack of transparency this board shows. We should make sure we are filling the Freedom of Information Requests and should be making sure all Board Meetings have public comments. This opportunity to hear from the public may provide the board with the thoughts and new perspectives on items that sometimes board members do not consider. We cannot look at these moments during board meetings as a negative period, but as one to gain a pulse of the community. We are elected officials that are charged to provide the best product as possible. It is give-­‐and-­‐take from the board and community that can provide the excellence that is often discussed by our District.

Mario A. Scarano: This is totally unacceptable and I will make sure if elected this will change. The school board should have the highest commitment to cultivating fairness, transparency, and access. There is nothing that is discussed in board meetings that the residents of NR should not have access to.

Julia Taylor: I believe in full transparency and following the law as it pertains to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests.

Donald Vega: The Board should allow transparency and two-way communication wherever and whenever possible. There should be technology where folks can provide feedback as well as live hearings. If there is no time at regular board meetings, then have town halls with both the superintendent and board members. We can do it on web cam now so it’s easier than finding parking. The parents are the board’s and superintendent’s customers. Any FOI request that is legal should be filled. That’s why it’s called Freedom of Information.

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