BOE Revisiting Proposed Media Policy
Proposed changes encourage written requests from reporters, board president approval of superintendent's statements
Mansquan School Board's president on Tuesday said officials would review proposed changes to the board's media relations policy after some members and officials voiced concern regarding certain language in the proposed policy.
School Board Vice President John Winterstella at the board's Tuesday work session said that he disagreed with proposals from the Policy Committee to encourage, except in cases of "extreme emergency," reporters to submit written requests for information related to the district and board.
Winterstella also took issue with a line that, as written in the draft, seemingly would require the superintendent to receive approval from the board president before releasing any statements.
After some discussion, in which acting Superintendent Robert J. Mahon said the language could be "moved around a little," board members agreed to have LaSala and the superintendent collaborate on possible changes before the proposal policy comes up for a vote.
"The way it sits there right now, it looks as if your hampered from saying anything unless you get this imprimatur, and I don't know that that's really what you intended," Mahon said.
Board President Michelle LaSala said the committee's intention was to ensure that district officials disseminated accurate information to the press.
The proposed policy identifies the board president as the spokesperson for all board-related issues, while the superintendent would handle all inquiries related to the schools, students and other activities -- with the approval of the board president.
"'With the approval of the board president' certainly delineates a sort of power to approve or not approve of certain statements," Winterstella said. "I just don't believe, the way it's worded... there's no exceptions in there."
While Winterstella said he was not sure "the board should be overpowering the superintendent or the principals," not everyone agreed.
"I think that it is important that the board president be aware of any information that is being shared with the media, and as president of the board I think it's appropriate that they be involved in that process," Patricia Walsh said.
If that's the purpose of the statement, Winterstella said, it would be better to change the sentence to say "in conjuction with the board president" not "with the approval of the board president."
Winterstella, who said he's worked in the magazing publishing industry, also was concerned that reporters doing any last-minute fact checking could miss deadlines by having to send written requests as opposed to just picking up the phone.
"I know editors at the last minute want to do some fact-checking and it's very difficult to do that through some sort of written statement, normally that's done with a verbal exchange by phone or in person," he said.
Winterstella added that he didn't think many reporters would adhere to the policy anyway.
"You may get the Asbury Park Press and the Coast Star to comply with the written format request, but I don't believe you're going to get the New York Times or the Newark Star-Ledger to submit their questions in writing before you answer them," Winterstella said.
He did, however, aknowledge that the proposed policy, which states that it is only the "preference" of the board to handle media inquiries through electronic communication, left officials some wiggle room.
"I certainly appreciate the word 'preference' in there, as opposed to 'it's the only way to do it.' I assume that in certain cases the board is going to accept verbal requests," Winterstella said.
To which LaSala replied: "Absolutely."
"The intent here is to just try to make sure that the information given out is accurate and not given on the fly, so it's not in all instances," LaSala said.
Board members also said the word "extreme" could be dropped from "extreme emergency" in the paragraph pertaining to when verbal communication with reporters would be preferred.