SACO — The school board in Saco has adopted a policy that requires all media inquiries of school board members be referred to the school board chairman.

The policy was adopted at Wednesday night’s school board meeting by a four to three vote, with school board members Arthur Tardif, Beth Johnston and Stanley Mozden in opposition.

“The Board believes that it has a responsibility to keep the public informed about the operations, programs, progress, and problems of the public schools. Consequently, Board meetings are open to the news media and public,” the policy states.

The policy further states that in the event that a representative from a news media is unable to attend a meeting, upon request, the superintendent will provide a summary “of important board actions.”

In addition, if an individual board member receives a request from a new media representative for information or comment, they should refer the inquiry to the school board chairman, who will be the “public spokesperson” for the board.

Johnston, one of the school board members who voted against the new policy, said she thought the policy should go back for more review before the final vote.

“My issue with it is not that essentially, the chair is the spokesman for the board. My problem is that I feel like it closes down the opportunity for other board members to make a statement to the media,” she said.

Johnston said she felt school board members other than the chairman should be able to make a statement to the media, as long as they prefaced what they said by stating it was their own opinion.

“I don’t think that the entire board should be shut down from talking with the media, as long as they acknowledge openly that it is their own opinion and not that of the board as a whole,” she said.

School board member Steve Shiman said there needs to be unity on a board that represents the school community.

“We really are to speak with one voice, as a board based on the decisions we make,” said Shiman. “Individual people do have a chance (to speak), I don’t think this stops people from speaking on their opinions in public, we’re all doing it right now. But when we make a decision, we speak with one voice.”

Johnston said she felt that by having this written policy a board member could potentially find themselves in dangerous territory if they were to only speak through the chairman.

Mayor Marston Lovell, who currently serves as an ex officio member of the board but will be the chairman when the new fiscal year begins in July due to a change in the charter, asked if there would be any sanction if a school board member violated the policy.

Shiman said he didn’t believe there would be any sanction, and Superintendent of Schools Dominic DePatsy said the policy was putting in writing procedures that the board had already been following.

Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be reached at 780-9015 or by email at [email protected]

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