Arundel vote on school pay raises upheld

Open meetings panel rules it a personnel matter

March 18, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The state Open Meetings Compliance Board has ruled that the Anne Arundel County school board did not violate sunshine laws when it held a private vote to grant pay raises to school administrators.

The compliance board found that the school board's vote on Dec. 3 applied only to five employees and was permissible under the personnel exception of the state Open Meetings Act, which protects the privacy of individual employees.

The compliance board's ruling on Tuesday, requested by The Capital, relied on affidavits from school board President Paul G. Rudolph, Superintendent Eric J. Smith and the board's lawyer, P. Tyson Bennett.

But the account of the closed meeting recounted by the compliance board differed from one that some school officials offered last month.

Rudolph and Synthia Shilling, an assistant superintendent present at the meeting, said they recalled that the school board voted to grant the raises to two classes of employees - an action that would not be covered by the act's personnel exception.

"I believe there was a vote taken, and it was probably said that we would give the raises to Unit 5 and Unit 6 [administrative employees], excluding certain people," Rudolph said in a Jan. 27 interview.

Bennett said in January that his notes from the closed meeting showed that the school board had acted only on the five specific employees. It voted to exclude them from a school systemwide raise because their salaries recently had been boosted with the assignment of new duties.

There was a general understanding, Bennett said, that the roughly 235 other administrative staff members would receive the 1 percent raise because they usually receive the same raises as teachers and others represented by labor unions.

Although the compliance board said the vote was legal, it criticized the school board on procedural grounds. It said the school board did not provide enough detail to the public before and after the closed meeting about what took place in private.

Instead, the school board only "parroted" portions of the Open Meetings Act to justify closing the meeting, the compliance board said.

Sun researcher Jean Packard contributed to this story.

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