World: DOE Violated Open Meeting Act With Location Change

Kim Archer
Tulsa World

The Oklahoma State Department of Education violated the state’s Open Meeting Act on Thursday by failing to file a change of location notice for its regular monthly meeting early enough.

The law requires public bodies to file changes to the date, time or place of a regularly scheduled public meeting with the Secretary of State’s office 10 days in advance

The department filed its notice at 8:13 a.m. Wednesday for its meeting Thursday in Enid, records show. The board usually meets in Oklahoma City.

If a regularly scheduled meeting doesn’t meet the 10-day advance notice requirement, any action taken there would “generally be invalid,” said Stephanie Mather, staff attorney for the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.

However, she said she wasn’t aware of the situation and could not comment specifically on it.

Department spokesman Phil Bacharach said he had no comment on the oversight but added that a special meeting of the board has been called for 9 a.m. Tuesday to legitimize the votes taken during Thursday’s meeting.

“I suspect it will be mostly a formality,” he said.

Most of the action taken at the meeting was to approve a variety of rule changes, but the board also gave the go-ahead for the department to request a $6.5 million supplemental budget appropriation to fully fund rising health-care costs for school employees this fiscal year.

However, that vote is void because of the snafu.

The Flexible Benefit Allowance provides funding to districts to insure full-time staff members and support personnel.

Based on data certified Jan. 1, school districts have added more than 1,300 employees eligible for state-funded insurance since October 2012, officials say.

Last October, the state Board of Education approved a request of $426.9 million for the Flexible Benefit Allowance in fiscal year 2015, a $59 million increase over the original fiscal year 2014 amount.

The department now projects a total Flexible Benefit Allowance budget request of $438 million for fiscal year 2015.

Officials blame the increased health insurance costs in part to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Under the law, school districts are required to offer health insurance for employees who work on average at least 30 hours a week. They say a number of districts are migrating workers from part-time to full-time status in order to comply with the new health care law and avoid penalties.

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