Decision reversed: Ed. dept. opens meetings to public

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DOVER -- When the Dover School board talks, people listen.

Less than a week after the board sent a letter to the Department of Education asking that a series of meetings on education cuts be opened to the public, the committee has agreed to their demand.

The Education Challenges Design Team, which was brought together to find about $50 million in cost savings throughout the school system, was planning on holding all of their meetings behind closed doors to allow a free flow of ideas, coordinator of the Challenges for Change effort, Tom Evslin, said earlier this week.

But on Friday the Department of Education announced that the group’s remaining five meetings will be open to the public.

"Isn’t that excellent?" Dover School Board Chairman Richard Werner said after getting word that the public would be allowed into the discussions. "That’s what Vermont government is all about?"

The Education Challenges Design Team is one of a number of committees around the state that have formed to try to slash the budget by making state government more efficient.

With such serious issues under discussion Werner said the Dover board wanted to make sure the public and the media had an opportunity to take part in the process.

"This is major stuff and I think it is the right decision to allow the public in," Werner said. "What we said made sense and I think they saw that."

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The School Board held an emergency meeting on Monday to draft the letter and get it out to the education department after learning that the meetings would be closed.

Werner said he had no plans to travel to Montpelier for the meetings, but said reporters could now attend and the notes from the meetings will be available for people who want to understand how the committee reached its conclusions.

The group met for the second time on Thursday and decided to allow the public in to future meetings, education department spokeswoman Jill Remick said.

"They agreed that there was no reason not to allow the public to attend," said Remick.

Remick said it was easy to understand why a finance manager or a superintendent would want to be able to talk about issues without worrying how their comments would be perceived by the public, but on the same hand, many of the members of the committee are involved in public education and are used to operating under the watchful eyes of an interested public.

"Many of them are used to this and I think they understood the importance of opening the meetings," she said.

The Education Challenges Design Team is scheduled to meet on March 15, 18, 22, 23 and 25 from 3 to -5 p.m. in the Education Commissioner’s office at 120 State Street in Montpelier.

The meetings are open to the public.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.


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