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Published September 24, 2010, 10:59 PM

Grand Forks School Board Violated Open Meetings Laws

Several violations made while discussing superintendent's compensation.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The Grand Forks school board violated North Dakota's open meetings law by secretly discussing a pay raise and new contract for its superintendent before approving them, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said in a legal opinion Friday.

Stenehjem said a special board subcommittee, which had met almost two weeks earlier to discuss the superintendent's job performance, also broke the law by failing to list the topics it would discuss at its meeting.

Its June 2 meeting agenda only advertised a "recap" of the school year, but the panel's discussions were much broader, including future training for board members, strategic planning, and talk about a pay raise for the superintendent that the full board later took up on June 14, Stenehjem's opinion said.

At its meeting, the full board met in closed session to discuss raising the pay of Superintendent Larry Nybladh and replacing his three-year contract, which had two years left on it, with a new three-year contract. Board members later approved the changes in open session.

North Dakota law allows public boards to discuss employee salary negotiations in private. However, the board decides the superintendent's compensation on its own, and there was no reason for a closed session because there was no negotiation, Stenehjem said.

Nybladh even attended the earlier subcommittee meeting that was held to discuss his job performance and recommend his pay increases to the full board, Stenehjem said.

"The real purpose of the executive session appears to have been to determine whether the full board would agree" to its subcommittee's earlier recommendations to give Nybladh a pay raise and extended contract, the attorney general said.

"Compensation for the superintendent's positive review was openly discussed previously during the (subcommittee's) special meeting and, under these circumstances, should have also been discussed openly when the matter was brought before the full board," Stenehjem said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.