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Meade School Board Breaks Open-Meetings Law by Changing Policy on Phone Saturday

Siandhara Bonnet tells a weird story about eight Meade School District teachers camping out on the street in front of their school admin building so they could be in line to apply for an early-retirement bonus of $35,000 each. In this final year of the plan, which incentivizes the teachers with the highest salaries to leave so the district can save money by hiring cheap newbies, only eight teachers could apply for the maximum benefit, and they could apply no earlier than the start of business on June 29.

But on Saturday night, someone apparently called an illegal school board meeting:

Saturday evening, someone in the group called Meade School Board president Dennis Chowen and asked if there was a way for the teachers to turn in their retirement letters Saturday, Chowen said.

He said he spoke with the other board members who all OK’d it so the teachers wouldn’t have to spend Sunday and into Monday outside. All eight teachers in line turned in their retirement letters that evening and will receive the full $35,000 [Siandhara Bonnet, “Meade District Lets Teachers Turn in Paperwork for Early-Retirement Bonus,” Rapid City Journal, 2020.06.28].

Hmm… the Meade County School Board holds its regular meetings on the second Monday of each month. If they wanted to change this early-retirement application date, they either needed to bring it up at their June 8 meeting or give the public 24 hours’ notice and hold an emergency meeting in public. Making a decision to change a board policy by non-public phone calls violates South Dakota open meetings law, subjecting members to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

I suppose there’s no immediate practical harm in this illegal school board action. The eight teachers had their list of who lined up and when, and there’s no indication anyone else planned to show up Monday morning and try to cut in line. But policy is policy, and the law is the law, and the Meade School Board broke the law to change a policy, and that’s never a good precedent.

p.s.: Strangely, the public school teachers who lined up in public to receive these public dollars didn’t want to give their names to the Rapid City Journal, but two of them, Kathy Seymour and Carolyn Schuldies, didn’t mind giving their names to KEVN and KOTA.


  1. Debbo 2020-06-30 00:27


  2. Wayne 2020-06-30 15:29

    I thankfully chose not to pursue my law degree, so take this with the salt required.

    Cory, there may be a nuance here in that a quorum was never present if the president polled each member individually, rather than a party line or group text.

    Additionally, 1-25-1 has a carve out for implementing previously publicly-adopted policy, carrying out ministerial functions, or undertaking factual investigations of conditions related to public safety.

    It’s not clear if school boards fit within that carve out, but if so, then I see two valid arguments for it not being considered a violation of public meeting laws:

    1) They were carrying out the ministration of the previously approved policy
    2) They were addressing a potential public safety concern (eight teachers camped out during a pandemic waiting to submit paperwork).

    Again, I’m no lawyer, but I would caution against thinking this was a violation on its face. Still, it’s definitely wise to err on the side of caution to avoid even the perception of impropriety.

    However, waiting 24 hours to consider whether 8 folks camped outside the school building should be able to submit paperwork sooner is counterproductive to address the immediate health & safety hazard evident in their presence.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-06-30 19:23

    Ministerial actions! A reasonable proposal, Wayne!

    If I maintain the hawk position on open meetings, I’d contend that this specific timing is more than a ministerial detail of implementation; the time restrictions for application seemed to be an integral part of the policy. Allowing individuals to apply for a benefit before the publicly announced time seems problematic and not something a board should be allowed to do without public notice.

    The public safety issue is a better ground: I’m willing to grant school boards all sorts of leeway for addressing the current unusual circumstances. However, couldn’t that sort of emergency ministerial power have been handled by the superintendent or business manager exercising normal executive authority? And given we want to minimize exercises of emergency powers, wouldn’t the board or its executive agents have been better advised to address the public health threat by telling people not to assemble in front of the school in cramped conditions, without altering an established school board policy without public notice?

  4. grudznick 2020-06-30 22:35

    If they had called grudznick, I’d have ministerialed the whole thing over in the crack of a HoHo wrapper. That there is any gnashing of teeth over this issue is just pure libbie silliness. Pay the people, they are probably representing 4 of the 7 SILT categories, so do it and move on. Bring in some lackies lower on the SILT and let them work their way up.

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