District-sponsored ‘retreat’ held

Meet-and-greet let new members get acquainted

MILL HALL — Jennifer Bottorf and Eric Probert, both winners in November’s Keystone Central School Board elections, were introduced to some of their fellow board members at what one of them called a district-sponsored retreat on Monday.

The Express reached out to Bottorf, who confirmed that the event was “a meet-and-greet” for the new board members, with herself and Probert, as well as current board members Charles Rosamilia, Deb Smith, Tracy Smith and Billie Rupert, in attendance, although Bottorf said she “wished other members would’ve attended.”

The event, which was classified as a “retreat,” did not have a formal agenda.

School board retreats are common, but have been challenged recently for being poor for political optics, as districts facing serious challenges, like Keystone Central, demand transparency.

Regardless, two of the most accepted uses of a retreat seemed to be in evidence Monday night, according to what Bottorf told The Express:

r Education and training for board members — Bottorf noted that one of the main subjects of conversation was to pass down educational information that board member Deb Smith had learned at a recent conference.

r Team-building and interpersonal relationships among board members — For example, one of the topics of discussion at the retreat was “Why did we all want to be on the board,” Bottorf said.

One of the main concerns raised by The Record’s article on the event was whether or not it violated the Sunshine Act.

According to Bottorf’s account, there was no quorum at Monday night’s meeting because four sitting board members were joined by two board members-elect. Total board membership is nine. A quorum would constitute five sitting board members.

Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act, also known as the Open Meetings Law, “requires agencies to deliberate and take official action on agency business in an open and public meeting. It requires that meetings have prior notice, and that the public can attend, participate, and comment before an agency takes that official action.”

While a meeting is defined as “any pre-arranged gathering of an agency which is attended or participated in by a quorum of the members of an agency held for the purpose of deliberating agency business or taking official action,” retreats, also known as closed gatherings, may also be held “solely for the purpose of collecting information or educating agency members about an issue.”

The key difference: Meetings involve official actions, determining policy, or, more generally, making decisions. Retreats, by contrast, involve information collecting, educational discussions and building better relations between board members.

Bottorf’s account of the event strongly aligns with the latter.

There seems to be some confusion, however, about how the retreat was presented.

According to Bottorf, she “found out about the retreat from (district Superintendent) Kelly Hastings,” from a conversation with Hastings and district Business Manager Susan Blesh, held last Friday.

She also received “an email invitation” to the event.

Board member Jeff Johnston spoke to The Record for its article on the subject. His comments to them suggest that the invitation was possibly unclear, as he specifically told The Record, “I chose not to attend in order to not run the risk of possibly violating the Sunshine Law” to avoid making a majority of board members in attendance. He also said he “had no knowledge as to what topics were being discussed.”