It was a full house at school district’s board meeting Aug. 20.
Dozens of patrons attended, but did not address the board during the public part of budget hearing.
After a brief period, the board unanimously approved the budget with no discussion. However, the board did hear a budget presentation during a prior meeting and it has been published in The Gardner News, as required by state statute.
The more than $30 million budget maintains last year’s mill levy rate.
Patrons commented after the meeting that it was difficult to hear board members and directors’ reports due to a poor audio system. There were also concerns that the patrons were “evacuated” from the board meeting while six board members met in executive session and ate pizza.
And as usual, no one spoke during the public input portion, maybe because persons wanting to address the board are required to fill out a comment card first and because they are unfamiliar with meeting protocol.
Requiring comment card sign in can be intimidating for persons who would feel more comfortable speaking spontaneously, and there has been a marked decrease in public participation at school board meetings since that policy was implemented.
Although this policy may be more convenient for board and staff, it may not be the best policy to increase taxpayer participation.
It’s encouraging to see better public attendance at the board meeting, and it’s important the board “step up to the plate” to encourage public involvement.
From public comments heard after the meeting, there are several ways to accomplish this:
• Publish the agenda and previous, unapproved minutes several days in advance online.
• Have copies of the directors reports available at the meeting for patrons to read or make the reports available online for patrons to read.
• Turn the audio system on so the public can hear.
• Have directors stand to read to present their reports or step to the podium.
• Determine if a police officer is needed for safety, or whether the inclusion intimidates rational public discourse.
• Don’t “evacuate” the board chambers during executive session; board members should move to another room; and while munching on pizza may encourage camaraderie between members, it also appears cozy and excludes the public.