By DAVE DONLEY
On May 31, 2023, I wrote a commentary emphasizing the need for more public notice when the Anchorage School Board takes major spending actions. I am again calling for more transparency from the school board.
Months ago, the school board leadership decided to change the way meeting minutes are prepared. They suggested going to “action minutes” to reduce the burden on the board’s secretary. In the future, only “actions” would be mentioned in the minutes. This seemed like a reasonable idea at the time. However, the board majority’s definition of an “action” differs from the common meaning of the word.
It was recently announced that from now on only motions that are seconded will be recorded in the minutes. This is problematic because having a complete public record of what happens at school board meetings is vital. Many times, extremely significant motions die from the lack of a second member voting in support. During the past six years, dozens of my budget amendments to reduce administrative spending have died for want of a second. Amendments I have offered to protect parents’ rights have also failed this way. From now on, it will appear in the minutes as if these types of actions never occurred.
The Anchorage School Board uses Robert’s Rules of Order regarding meetings. The Robert’s Rules Association is the nationally recognized interpreter of RRO. On the Robert’s Rules Association’s website, Interpretation 2006-7 states:
Question: It is my understanding that a main motion that dies for lack of a second is not to be recorded in the minutes because it never really came before the assembly and, therefore, need not be recorded. Is this correct?
Answer: No, it is not correct. Under the rule as stated in (Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised), on page 452, lines 21 to 23, minutes should record all main motions except, normally, any that were withdrawn.
Interpretation 2006-7 goes on to explain that:
We tried to state it a bit more forcefully in (Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised In Brief) where, on page 148, we said:
“All main motions which are moved during the course of a meeting (excepting only those which are withdrawn by the maker) should be recorded in the minutes.”
William J. Puette, Ph.D., Professional Registered Parliamentarian, states on his website that minutes should include: “all main motions (10) or motions to bring a main question again before the assembly (6:25–27; 34–37) that were made or taken up — except, normally, any that were withdrawn.”
Even “Robert’s Rules for Dummies” states that minutes should include: “All main motions (except ones that are withdrawn), along with the name of the member making the motion.”
In the past, the Anchorage School Board has used a Seattle-based group to help interpret Roberts Rules of Order. That group conflicts with the nationally recognized experts and believes unseconded motions do not need to be shown in minutes if the organization decides, but adds that to do so requires a vote by a two-thirds majority to not follow RRO. But according to a recent search, no such official vote is in the records of the Anchorage School Board.
The Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, Mat-Su, Sitka, and Kenai Peninsula school boards all record unseconded motions in their minutes. I have been advised that the Alaska Association of School Boards (AASB) may suggest other boards follow the Anchorage example. But in a recent conversation, a representative of the AASB denied that.
In fairness to the school board, I have learned that the Anchorage Assembly also does not record motions that die without a second. But there are important distinctions between the two bodies. The Assembly has 12 members elected from districts, while the school board has only seven members elected citywide. Failing to record motions by a member, only because they are not seconded, can seriously distort the record. This effectively disenfranchises one-seventh of the Board and the people who voted for them.
In fact, some Roberts Rules of Order experts opine that smaller boards of less than 12, should not even require a second for motions. A seven-member board is considered just large enough to possibly require a motion to be seconded. The danger of requiring a second on a small board is obvious — if there is a political imbalance you can effectively shut out a minority opinion.
The only justification I have heard articulated as to why seconded substantive motions should not be recorded in the minutes has been that people can watch the meetings on YouTube. Does that surpass the importance of a complete and fair written public record? The voters deserve to have an accurate historical record of the actions their elected school board members took.
Of additional concern is that as of Feb. 1, the November and Oct. 17, 2023, board meetings were not available on YouTube. The Dec. 5 meeting was a partial recording of the work session that day. The Oct. 17 meeting forced the viewer to wait through more than four minutes of commercials to access an incomplete recording of not the meeting, but instead the work session for that day. Most of these deficiencies have now been corrected, but clearly, relying on YouTube is failing to adequately provide a reliable official record.
At the Dec. 19, 2023, meeting, I moved to amend the Nov. 21, 2023, meeting minutes, to include two amendments I offered to the upcoming April 2024 bond proposition. One was to reduce the bonds by more than $19 million. The other was to ensure full information was provided to the voters about the cost of the new Inlet View Elementary School.
Unfortunately, my motion to include these amendments in the minutes and the debate regarding it will not be recorded in the minutes because they failed without a second.
Former Alaska Sen. Dave Donley is a lifelong Anchorage resident who served 16 years in the Alaska Legislature. The father of twins in the Anchorage School District, this is his third and final term on the Anchorage School Board. He writes this as a member of the Anchorage School Board, not on behalf of or intended to represent the School Board or the Anchorage School District.