by Maureen Anichini Lemon

In a recent non-binding decision, the Public Access Counselor (PAC) division of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office held that a school district’s reduction in force joint committee (RIF Joint Committee) must comply with the requirements of the Open Meetings Act (OMA). Such requirements include posting an agenda, having a quorum, maintaining minutes, allowing public comments, and audiotaping closed session meetings.
 
Since the passage of Senate Bill 7 in 2011, Section 24-12(c) of the School Code requires a joint committee composed of equal representation selected by the school board and its teachers (or union), to meet annually to address certain matters related to RIFs. The RIF joint committee is to convene by December 1 and conclude its work by February 1 each school year. In January 2014, a complaint was filed with the PAC alleging that Grayslake CCSD 46 violated OMA when the RIF Joint Committee met in December 2013 without complying with the OMA. Nearly three years later, on September 8, 2016, the PAC issued its non-binding letter agreeing that the District violated OMA when its RIF Joint Committee did not comply with the requirements of OMA.

The PAC reasoned that a RIF Joint Committee is statutorily created, and that its operations and functions are inextricably connected to those of the District. According to the PAC, the RIF Joint Committee is “part of the formal organizational structure of the District, a primary consideration in determining whether a public body is subject to OMA.” Because the RIF Joint Committee exists to advise the District and is an established part of the formal process for determining the order of honorable dismissals, the PAC finds it to be an advisory or subsidiary “public body” subject to the requirements of OMA. The PAC rejected the District’s numerous arguments including the argument that the RIF Joint Committee engages in collective bargaining and is, therefore, exempt from compliance with OMA.
 
Although it is non-binding, this decision reveals how the PAC will likely rule on future complaints that school district RIF Joint Committees failed to comply with OMA. While we disagree with the decision’s legal analysis and conclusion, school districts that ignore the PAC decision risk possible OMA complaints and unfavorable rulings from the PAC. Yet, school districts that comply with OMA’s requirements in relation to their RIF Joint Committee may have to extend OMA’s coverage to all advisory or subsidiary committees. To address these concerns, we recommend that you confer with your attorney as you prepare to convene the RIF Joint Committee before December 1.