Question: The school committee in my Massachusetts town just met in executive session, stating that it was going to discuss “strategy” with respect to the renewal of the School Superintendent’s contract. When the committee came out of executive session and before it voted to renew the contract, one of the members commented that they had discussed and approved the superintendent’s performance evaluation. After the meeting I asked for the evaluation, but they wouldn’t give it to me, saying it isn’t a public record. Can they do that?
Answer: We get many hotline calls about the hiring and retention of school superintendents. School superintendents are often the highest-paid public employees in town, yet many school committees in Massachusetts believe they can meet in secret to discuss a superintendent’s performance. They can’t.
In Massachusetts, a school committee can go into executive session “to conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with nonunion personnel,” and the state’s highest court has ruled that this allows committees to discuss a Superintendent’s contract renewal or salary in executive session. However, a different portion of the law states that any discussions of an employee’s “professional competence” must be held in the open. Thus, even if a performance evaluation is being discussed in connection with a potential contract renewal, the school committee has to discuss the superintendent’s “professional competence” in the open, leaving the vehicle of an executive session for true strategy talks about contract terms, salary and the like. The committee also has to post the purpose of the meeting accurately, to give the public notice that it is meeting to discuss the Superintendant’s contract.
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