On Monday, June 8, NJSBA testified before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on two bills, S-781 and S-782, that would amend New Jersey’s Open Public Meetings Act and Open Public Records Act.
The proposed changes to the Open Public Meetings Act include expanding the requirements for what must be included in a meeting agenda, making board committees subject to some of the requirements of OPMA, and permitting courts to award attorney’s fees to citizens who are successful in bringing OPMA suits against local boards of education and government entities. NJSBA opposed the changes saying that those proposed changes would create additional expenses for boards of education, driving money out of the classroom and depriving students of much-needed resources.
NJSBA told the committee that the Open Public Records Act bill, S-782, contained some amendments that were favorable to school districts, such as the exclusion of parent emails and school security footage from the definition of public records. NJSBA recommended other amendments, however, such as the inclusion of a local school board member on the Government Records Council, the body that adjudicates OPRA disputes. NJSBA also recommended that district records custodians not be penalized for actions taken in conformity with their board attorney’s advice when answering citizens records requests.
NJSBA believes that it is the responsibility of local boards of education to keep the community informed of the status of the school district on a continuing basis. Local school board meetings are a primary means of sharing information about the school district with the community, and boards of education should invite public comments and input, within reasonable parameters. NJSBA also told the committee that there was a need to effectuate a balance between the public’s right to transparency with the local board of education’s need to conduct its business efficiently, without unreasonable delay, undue expense or administrative burden.
Neither bill was released from committee on Monday.