The Public Access Counselor (PAC) division of the Attorney General’s Office recently held that the reduction in force joint committee (the “Joint Committee”) was subject to the requirements of the Open Meetings Act (OMA). Recent amendments to the School Code (known as Senate Bill 7) require the establishment of a Joint Committee to assist school districts in determining the sequence of honorable dismissals for teachers.
In this case, the School District’s Joint Committee met without complying with the OMA. A complaint was subsequently filed with the PAC alleging that the Joint Committee was subject to the OMA’s notice, agenda, minutes, and other requirements.
The School District maintained that its Joint Committee was not subject to the OMA. Specifically, it contended that a Joint Committee is not a subsidiary body of a public body because the Board of Education has no control over the Joint Committee, no Board members serve on it, the members of the Committee are selected by the Superintendent, and the Committee does not report to or advise the Board of Education. Further, the School District argued that even if the Joint Committee was a subsidiary body of the Board of Education, the Joint Committee did not violate the OMA because the Joint Committee was engaged in collective bargaining negotiations, which are exempt from the requirements of the OMA under Section 18 of the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act (115 ILCS 5/18).
In a non-binding decision, the PAC disagreed with both of the School District’s arguments. It held that the Joint Committee is a subsidiary body of the School District due to the fact that it was created by statute and is part of the formal organizational structure of the School District. Specifically, the Joint Committee is part of a school district’s formal process for determining the order of honorable dismissal and exists to advise the School District. Since the Joint committee is tasked with issuing binding decisions regarding the order of honorable dismissal of teachers for the School District, the PAC found that its operations and functions are intertwined with that of the School District. Therefore, according to the PAC, the Joint Committee is a public body.
Further, the PAC held that the Joint Committee’s meeting was not excluded from the requirements of the OMA under Section 18 of the IELRA. The PAC determined that the Joint Committee is statutorily limited by the School Code in the discussions it can have and the decisions it can make. The Joint Committee is not authorized to discuss negotiations concerning wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, which is the essence of collective bargaining. Therefore, the IELRA’s OMA exemption did not apply; only collective bargaining between the educational employer and the employees is exempt from the OMA.
While the PAC’s decision is non-binding (meaning it has no legal precedence and did not impact the Joint Committee’s ultimate decisions regarding teachers in this case), it is noteworthy. The Joint Committees in most school districts have likely met without complying with the requirements of the OMA. Based on this opinion, we now know that the PAC believes that Joint Committees are in fact subject to the OMA. It is our opinion that this ruling is flawed from both a legal and public policy perspective. School districts must, however, consider it to avoid possible OMA complaints and adverse rulings from the PAC. As the initial Joint Committee meetings must be held prior to December 1 of each school year, school districts should consult their attorneys to determine how best to administer upcoming Joint Committee meetings.