Fairfax County School Board members are packing their bags for a three-day retreat which begins tomorrow night at the Airlie House conference center outside of Warrenton.
Except for an executive session Sunday afternoon, the retreat is open to the public under Virginia's open meeting laws. By early this week, however, school officials had not notified the public of the meeting nor sent notices to the press.
The failure to notify citizens formally of the public meetings comes on the heels of two reprimands issued this summer by a county Circuit Court judge. The judge criticized the board for failing to let the public know about several board meetings during last spring's controversy over school closings.
When asked why the press and the public had not been notified of this weekend's sessions, Mary Ann Lecos, the school administrator handling arrangements for the retreat, said, "We plan to send press released out after the retreat."
Lecos, a former school board chairman, added, "We've never had any member of the public at one of these, except one year when the council of governments was also meeting at Airlee. Then, a reporter covering that meeting came in for a while."
The only public mention of the retreat came at a July budget workshop attended by less than 30 people and at the end of a school board meeting July 24.
At that meeting, School Board Chairman Ann P. Kahn mentioned that plans for the retreat were progressing and that board-staff relationships and goals for the coming year would be two topics discussed at the three-day meeting.
Kahn, in an interview this week, said that in the past there had been little interest in such meetings and the public had never attended one of them.
"I guess notice was given at the last school board meeting, which was a public session," Kahn said. "The dates (for the retreat) are still the same dates. There really isn't too much to tell. The agenda is very loose."
Kahn added, "I don't think there has been an attempt to keep the meeting secret."
The school-community relations office, which is responsible for providing information to the public, had few details about the retreat.
"I don't have anything to do with it, thank goodness," said George Hamel, director of the office.
The retreat is the first of its type to be held in several years. At the July workshop, Kahn suggested the weekend getaway as an opportunity for the three new board members to get acquainted with the rest of the school board and to be introduced to issues the board will face this year.
At the retreat, experts in group dynamics will work with the board and school administrators on improving interrelationships.
On Sunday, the board will meet with its lawyers in executive session, which is closed to the public. According to Lecos, members will discuss "the implications of recent court decisions and (the school board's) relationship with the superintendent."
The cost of the retreat will be paid from a special fund in the school budget set up for board conferences and similar meetings.
Lecos, who has made reservations for 20 people -- the 10-member board and 10 school administrators -- said accommodations will cost about $42.50 per person for the weekend, or about $850. In addition, Lecos said, the board will pay $300 for one consultant. The other, who is a member of the National School Board Association, is providing his services for free.
The Airlie House is on Rte. 605 about two miles north of Warrenton. The two public sessions will be Friday and Saturday. The Friday meeting begins with a dinner at 6:30 p.m., with a session scheduled immediately afterward. The Saturday meeting begins at 9 a.m., and is expected to continue all day.