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Shutting the public out

Bad policy is spewing from the Indiana Statehouse so furiously that it's difficult to keep up. One that has gotten too little attention is a measure to lock the public out of debates over school consolidation.

Senate Bill 259 amends Indiana's public meetings law to allow discussion of school consolidation in executive session. The bill, authored by Lafayette Republican Ron Alting, was approved by a 46 to 4 vote in the Senate and now moves to the House, where it already has bipartisan support.

No topic in any community creates as much controversy and strife as a school consolidation proposal. It's precisely that reason why the discussion should be held in public.

School boards, historically, have been among the worst offenders in violating open meeting requirements. By ignorance or intent, they've frequently shut the public out of discussion of difficult or embarrassing issues. The state's Open Door Law has been invaluable in ensuring the public's business is done in full light.

School consolidation is a difficult topic, but if the need to consolidate is warranted, school officials shouldn't be afraid to make the case in public.

It's unfortunate that Indiana's privatization push is forcing school districts to make difficult decisions, but that's all the more reason why a consolidation decision should be held in public. Parents, voters, taxpayers are entitled to know how policy decisions will affect them.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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