Open Letter to School Board re: Summer Retreat Agenda

Among the principles that inform the political philosophy of PortsmouthCityWatch.org, these two are key: 1) conduct the business of the public in public, and 2) afford the public abundant opportunities to weigh in before deciding public policy. We are opposed, therefore, to the Portsmouth School Board taking up during the summer retreat scheduled for today and tomorrow two action items that we believe should be considered in a regular or special meeting. The items in question are the adoption of the revised student code of conduct, item 7.3, and the approval of a contract for transportation services for students with special needs, item 7.4.

Organizations which hold retreats typically use them for such purposes as team building, training, planning, and brainstorming, activities that require a greater investment of time and creativity than the normal business meeting. Frequently, outside facilitators lead these types of meetings so that the experience does not become “just another day in the boardroom”. Most significantly, from our perspective, these events afford the public no participatory role, merely an observational one. Consequently, as stated at the outset, we do not believe a retreat to be an appropriate setting for deciding, as opposed to discussing, public policy matters.

Let us hasten to add that we disagree as well with the practice of adopting policies in work sessions and special meetings if the public has no opportunity to comment on the issues under consideration. We believe that a government based on elected representatives of the people deciding matters in the best interests of those people commits malpractice when it denies the citizens a voice in such proceedings. Additionally, we consider conducting regular business in a retreat format a squandered opportunity to engage in creative dialogue instead. We urge the members of the Portsmouth School Board, therefore, to defer items 7.3 and 7.4 to the previously scheduled meeting of August 17 and provide the public the opportunity to address the matters in that forum and at that time.

Yours truly,
Mark Geduldig-Yatrofsky

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