Required Training for School Board Members
Open Public Meeting and Public Records Act
Effective July 1, 2014, all public school boards (and other elected members of governing bodies of public agencies) are required to participate in training related to open public meetings (RCW 42.30 and 42.32) and public records retention (RCW 42.56), in addition to rules related to the Preservation and Destruction of Public Records (RCW 40.14). Per Engrossed Senate Bill 5964, known as the Open Government Trainings Act (OGTA).Who must be trained?
The law specifically includes members of city and county councils, school boards, fire commissions, special districts, statewide elected officials and each agency's public records officer. It also includes appointees to local and statewide office.
Incumbents from these groups are not required to take the training until after their next election; however, Nancy Krier, the assistant attorney general for open government issues, strongly encourages everyone to take it sooner rather than later, and preferably sometime in 2014. Refresher trainings are only required every four years.What training options are available?Training may be provided through a variety of means ranging from ‘in-house’ training by staff familiar with the content of the regulations, to online trainings, to external training provided by state agencies, professional organizations and/or private parties. Use the Training Resources link to the left to review materials and a general framework for engaging your boards in the required instruction.How do we report training?Compliance with the new law is on the honor system, since there is no requirement to report to any state agency that training has occurred or who attended. It's up to each board or agency governing body to make sure their members receive training and to locally document that in some way. It could be with a certificate of completion for their file or maintaining a list of those who have completed the training with dates, topics covered, time, etc. A sample certificate and registration form are available on the AG’s website.Why is this necessary?The motivation for this new law came partly in response to a 2012 report of the State Auditor's Office that identified 250 incidents involving violations of varying proportion of Washington's Public Records Act and Open Meetings Law. Several were one-time or infrequent occurrences such as inadequately recording and maintaining public meeting minutes. Others were more significant infractions, including business discussions among board and council members outside of a meeting or reaching consensus through email communications and not in an open public meeting. The intention of training is to have more informed governing bodies and lessen the number of lawsuits related to records requests or open meeting violations, which have resulted in significant fines against some entities. Training can improve how records are handled and reduce the incidences for small errors ending up with big fines.Where do we start?Review the Training Resources and Training Opportunities, then decide how you will provide the necessary instruction for your board. A board may elect to review these materials in one or more sessions. You may want to consider holding the training and discussion as part of a board work session, or as part of the regular board meeting as informational items for the board. Including the training in your regular board meeting will allow for documentation of training and participation within your usual board minutes, which would not require additional records be maintained.
Attorney General's Resources
Open Government Training Materials
Open Government Ombudsman
[website]Model Rules and Best Practices on Public Disclosure
WA State Archives Resources
Records Management for Local Government [website]
Advice Sheets [website]
Records Retention Schedules for School Districts and ESDs [website]
LegislationESB5964: Open Government Act
View Bill as passed by Legislature [PDF]
RCW 42.30: Open Public Meeting Act
[view]RCW 42.32: Meetings
RCW 42.56: Public Records Act
[view]RCW 40.14: Preservation and Destruction of Public Records[view]Additional ResourcesPublic Records: Tackling the Tough Questions (Including Use of Smart Phones and Other Thorny Issues)Municipal Research and Services Center & State Archivist Office [webinar]ARTICLE: Whatcom County councilors like Facebook; public-records rules remain fuzzy. The Bellingham Herald
Reminder: Laws Change. The Washington State Legislature can amend the sunshine and records management and retention laws. Courts also issue decisions interpreting these laws. Agencies should review current laws and decisions to determine if training materials they use are consistent with the current laws, and whether they should be updated. If there is a difference, the laws govern. Legislative updates will also be posted on the Attorney General's Open Government Act website.
For more information
Deb Ramsay, Executive Director, Technology & Design Services NorthEast Washington Educational Service District 101
e: email@example.com v: 509.323.2759Thanks to Dana Anderson, Superintendent, Capital Region ESD 113, Olympia, for content assistance and inspiration.