Court sides with School

The Portland Press Herald had sued the school to get notes from a meeting concerning job performance.

The Portland School Committee will not be forced to release notes from a private meeting last summer, thanks to a unanimous ruling Thursday by Maine’s highest court in favor of the committee and against the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.In a case that tested Maine’s right-to-know statute, the state Supreme Judicial Court found that the School Committee was within the law to hold the private meeting with school officials.

Committee members at the July 25 meeting grilled Superintendent Mary Jo O’Connor and Finance Director Richard Paulson about their job performance, relative to an unexpected $2.5 million budget deficit. Both officials later resigned.

Members said the meeting was private because they limited the discussion to job performance. Under state law, such talks are allowed to be held privately if they have the potential of damaging an employee’s professional reputation.

The newspaper sued the School Committee, claiming that the meeting went beyond a simple review of job performance by getting into budget issues and thus should have been conducted in public.

In an earlier ruling, Superior Court Justice Roland Cole agreed in part and ordered some notes taken during the meeting to be released to the newspaper. The School Committee appealed the ruling, and the notes were not released pending the higher court’s decision.

The high court’s seven justices sided unanimously with the School Committee.