Editorial: Keep board proceedings in newspapersA proposal has begun circulating to no longer require the proceedings of school boards in Wisconsin to be published in a newspaper for public review. This is bad public policy.
A proposal has begun circulating to no longer require the proceedings of school boards in Wisconsin to be published in a newspaper for public review. This is bad public policy.
By eliminating public notice of school board activities, school districts are telling citizens they must take the initiative to track down the actions of the school board elected to serve them. The motivation behind this proposal comes from school district officials who understandably are interested in minimizing operating costs.
But this proposal is entirely pennywise and pound foolish. And the victim of the proposed cost savings measure is the public.
Publication in the local newspaper of the government’s intent to take action that may in some way change or limit the right of the public isn’t a trivial expense to be done away with in lean budget years. It’s recognized some Wisconsin school districts now augment the newspaper publication of their school board proceedings with postings on their local web sites. For citizens who already may have a reason to visit those sites—such as parents with school-age children—the additional posting is helpful.
But for the majority of taxpayers who have no reason to sit down at their computer and call up the school district homepage and search through various menus—for these citizens, this proposal serves as another barrier between them and the local government they financially support.
In these complex political times, and with school districts front and center in much of the current Wisconsin political debate, government should be looking for ways to increase public understanding of and interaction with local school districts. Instead, this proposal would decrease the information flow by erecting barriers between citizens and their elected officials.
Government at any level has a fundamental responsibility to ensure adequate notification to the public of its actions. Allowing government bodies to post their own public notices takes away third-party oversight function of the newspaper, and removes any independent proof of publication.
Public notices in local newspapers are vital to the proper functioning of democratic government. Public notices are also the most effective medium to reach the greatest number of citizens in a verifiable, predictable format.
Local newspapers are and have always been the traditional medium for public notices, and this is exactly where the public, including infrequent newspaper readers, expect to find them. There’s no good reason to create new barriers between citizens and their local school district. There are too many minority Wisconsin residents who lack computer and/or internet resources to make this proposal worth considering.
The effect on revenue for newspapers doesn’t drive opposition to the proposal. It’s because of the fundamental reversal of basic government responsibilities. It’s government serving the public and it’s government’s responsibility to ensure proper notification to the public of its actions…and not the other way around.