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Open and transparent government is important

Toward the end of the Board of Education’s budget workshop on Wednesday, Feb. 15, Winchester School District Receiver Freeman Burr asked board members to email him recommendations and suggestions for the district’s proposed fiscal 2017-2018 budget.

While the board does not have any authority to vote on or determine a proposed budget because of the state’s receivership of the school district, Burr said that he would take budget recommendations from board members into consideration.

While Burr has done some good things for the school district since he was named the district’s receiver by the state in November, we are somewhat troubled that Burr is encouraging the board to conduct business by email.

While it is not illegal, conducting board discussions by email — whether it is having email conversations about the proposed school budget or about any other pressing school district issue — prevents the public from knowing important matters being discussed.

It is akin to having a public meeting in private, away from important stakeholders in the school community, namely the parents, school administrators and teachers in the district.

Winsted has had budgetary problems with school funding numerous times through the years, and it is important for residents to be able to see what is being discussed and what the issues are.

It is also important to keep board business and school district business open and transparent for everyone to see and review.

With a municipal election coming this November, residents should have the chance to see how board members discussed issues.

Something else that is troubling is that, on the agendas of past budget workshops and special informational meetings for the Board of Education, there have not been any agenda items dedicated to public comment.

While these meetings were only informational and no decisions could be made directly by board members, it is very important for both the board members and Receiver Burr to hear directly from the public on school district issues.

At press time, the Board of Education was scheduled to hold another budget workshop on Wednesday, Feb. 22.

The Winsted Journal has sent a Freedom of Information request to the Winchester School District to review copies of the emails referred to in this editorial. An article on the emails will be published in the future.