A story in the Courier-Journal this weekend outlines how the Jefferson County Board of Education can hold a closed-door meeting to begin superintendent Sheldon Berman‘s evaluation.

The board held a closed-door meeting last year, but was found in violation of state law. The General Assembly passed a law this year allowing closed preliminary evaluations after July 15th. Berman’s evaluation was held in June in previous years, but will be held under the new law this year.

Board chairwoman Debbie Wesslund said the board had initially planned to evaluate Berman, who is now in the final year of his four-year contract, in June, but “the timing became problematic.”

“We spent most of May and June dealing with the leadership audits (at six of the district’s struggling schools) that required us to do some major restructuring that required a lot of time and work,” she said. “We also had a board member out of the country for two weeks in June.”

But Jon Fleischaker, an attorney for The Courier-Journal, said the board is shutting out the public from an evaluation that “should be done in public.”

“It appears clear that at least one of the reasons why the Jefferson County school board waited to evaluate (Berman) is because they wanted to do it in private,” he said.

State Senator David Givens (R-Greensburg) sponsored the closed-door bill and says it allows boards to have more candid interviews with superintendents. The board agrees:

“We fought for that law, and we agree with it,” [Wesslund] said. “We think that having a closed session allows us to be more thorough and deliberative and to have frank discussions. It doesn’t matter what we say or think individually, it matters what we say or think as a board.”

However, the paper points out that some information is lost in such meetings.

Last year, the Jefferson County school board issued a four-page evaluation that largely complimented Berman, while encouraging him to improve his interaction with the board, community organizations and parents.

But an affidavit filed as part of the school board’ appeal noted that during the closed portion of Berman’s evaluation, board member Larry Hujo inquired about “issuing a reprimand and/or terminating” Berman’s contract.

Hujo said in an interview that he had been upset about Berman’s handling of an incident involving a teacher, but that other board members persuaded him not to pursue punitive measures against Berman.

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