Policy would make it easier to speak at board meetings

Published 6:49 pm Thursday, March 7, 2019

Last week, a lot of the focus after the Troup County School Board meeting was on the new superintendent, which is obviously understandable. The board worked for months to find the right person and hiring new Superintendent Brian Shumate was the culmination of a lot of hard work.

However, due to the superintendent news another big discussion from last week’s meetings went under the radar.

The board held a first reading on a resolution that would update policy BCBI, which dictates public participation in board meetings. The board can still make changes to this policy and then a second reading will be held. The second reading could happen as soon as this month’s meeting. It’s likely that at point that the new policy would be put in place for future meetings. The current policy requires the public to submit a request in writing to state the specific reason why they want to speak to the board. The request has to be made no later than noon on Friday, and the superintendent will then schedule appearances on the meeting agenda.

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The new policy would allow anyone who wants to speak at a work session to sign up as soon as they got to the meeting. Under the proposed new policy, anyone that wants to speak on an item that appears on the monthly business meeting agenda must let the superintendent know by noon on the Monday prior to the business meeting, specifying the subject he/she wishes to address.

Any comments from the public must be focused on issues and solutions and cannot be on personal complaints regarding school personnel.  If this new policy is updated, it would ease the requirements for someone to speak at a work session or business meetings. In my nearly two years of covering board meetings, there have been very few public comments, so this is a step in the right direction.

When it comes to the new policy, I think back to October 2017, when mold was found at Rosemont Elementary School. At the next work session, it was clear many parents in the audience had something to say to the board, but nobody had put in a formal request to speak. Therefore, nobody from the public was allowed to speak at the meeting.   Parents likely left frustrated, and I wrote a column afterward saying that the policy could’ve likely been amended for one night so parents had a chance to voice their opinion about a major problem.

However, this is a much bigger step. This would be a complete change in policy, making it easier for parents to speak directly to the board about the school system.

Of course, the subject matter has to fit specific guidelines. It’s unreasonable and wrong to get in front of the board and talk about a specific teacher, principal or staff members in a bad light, and it won’t and shouldn’t be allowed. It should also be pointed out that parents with a problem in the school system should go through other avenues before considering speaking at the board meeting anyways. Talk to your child’s teacher and school administrators before going any further.

The board can also amend this policy before putting it into effect too. One change it might consider is whether to bump the Monday at noon requirement back one day.

As the new policy currently reads, anyone wanting to speak about an item on the monthly business meeting must let the superintendent know by the Monday before, but the work session agenda (which typically mirrors the business meeting agenda) isn’t released until Friday afternoon.

That’s a fairly tight window for someone from the public to get the agenda and put in a request. Making that a Tuesday would be likely be much easier on anyone hoping to speak.

Like any governing body, the school board is often subject to a lot of criticism for the decisions it makes. However, it’s clear the current makeup of the board values public input and is making it easier to get feedback from the people it represents.