BARSTOW A law expert says the Barstow School Board violated public meetings laws, by failing to correctly report a decision not to renew its superintendent's contract.

On Nov. 8, the School Board announced that Superintendent Sue Levine was resigning her position. The Desert Dispatch subsequently interviewed Levine and Board President Mary Rodriguez, who stated that the School Board had unanimously decided not to renew her contract, which expires June 30, 2012. However, no formal vote was taken, according to Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said the decision not to renew the contract was discussed in closed sesssion at a previous school board meeting, but no vote was reported.

The Desert Dispatch subsequently contacted experts in public meeting laws in California. Katherine Keeting, an attorney with the First Amendment Coalition, said the failure to report the decision made in closed session was a violation of the Brown Act, the California laws that govern public meetings.

Keeting said the Brown Act requires that any action taken during the closed session of a public meeting that would affect the employment status of a public employee, such as Levine, must be reported to the public.

"A collective decision not to renew the superintendent's contract even if there was no formal vote should have been reported," Keeting said.

The First Amendment Coalition, based out of San Rafael, Calif., is a non-profit group that provides free consultations concerning freedom of speech and freedom of information issues in California.

But acting Superintendent Jeff Malan stands by the board's actions.

"The board acted lawfully in reporting all actions that were taken in closed session," Malan said.

Had the board released the their decision to the public, community members would have known of Levine's departure at least two weeks sooner. The public also would have learned of Levine's departure at the same time school staff did, rather than several days after.

Rodriguez said she could not comment on what happened during that closed session because to do so would be a violation of the Brown Act. When asked why the Brown Act would prevent her from commenting if it requires her to disclose the board's decision, she, again, did not comment.

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