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School Board acknowledges FOIA error

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Passes resolution stating it will make changes in future

The Bedford County School Board acknowledged Thursday night that it failed to act within the proper guidelines of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act when it voted last month to hire Dr. Douglas Schuch as its next superintendent.

    The board stated in a resolution approved Thursday that it “agrees that in the future it shall ensure that public votes on matters previously discussed in closed session will be preceded by sufficient disclosure of the substance and content of the issue being voted on, so as to reasonably inform the public of such matters consistent with the provisions of FOIA.”

    The resolution was approved following the disclosure of a settlement agreement Thursday between the school board and the Times-World Corporation, publisher of The Roanoke Times. The Roanoke Times is owned by Landmark Media Enterprises which is also the parent company of The Bedford Bulletin.

    In that settlement, it was noted that while the board came out of an executive session at its Feb. 26 meeting and voted 5-1 to approve the personnel report, it was not disclosed by the board that the vote was “intended to represent an affirmative vote to offer employment as superintendent to Douglas Schuch.” Board members also refused to identify Schuch after the meeting, only confirming that intended purpose at a press conference held the following day.

    Also at that meeting, prior to the vote but after the motion made to approve the personnel report, board member Talbot Huff announced his resignation, explaining that he couldn’t vote to hire the applicant, then unidentified, because of that applicant’s perceived lack of experience as a superintendent or principal.

    In the agreement Times World agreed to forego a FOIA lawsuit, based on the board’s agreement to pass its resolution on the issue.

    The Roanoke Times had requested e-mails among school board members related to the superintendent’s search and hire leading up to Feb. 27. Frank Wright, the school board’s attorney, provided more than 150 pages of e-mails.

    According to one of the e-mails, Hostutler’s “proposed game plan” was to withhold Schuch’s name after the public vote was taken, according to an e-mail obtained by The Roanoke Times under FOIA.

    Hostutler spelled out his intentions to save the announcement for a news conference in an e-mail to the board dated Feb. 20.     Schuch is currently executive director of strategic planning and accountability for Stafford County Public Schools.

    “Whenever possible, the public’s business should be conducted in public,” said Michael Stowe, managing editor of The Roanoke Times. “The newspaper believes the school board violated the state’s freedom of information law by not openly disclosing the contents of the personnel report that approved hiring a new schools superintendent. It’s our job to hold public officials accountable when we think FOIA has been violated.”

    The newspaper was prepared to file a lawsuit and have a judge determine whether the board broke the law but is pleased with the agreement reached, Stowe said.

    The board approved Schuch’s four-year contract at Thursday evening’s meeting. Schuch will earn $140,000 a year. Current Superintendent Dr. James Blevins, will earn just over $135,000 in his 11th at the helm of Bedford County Public Schools. Schuch will take over for Blevins, who announced his retirement last year, on July 1.