MOUNT VERNON — A question being asked throughout the area is: Should community members be allowed to speak at school board meetings?
Centerburg Board of Education president Lynn McCann believes there is no reason to prevent public comment.
“One thing I’m proud of at Centerburg,” he said, “is that we’ve never run from anybody. ... We even have people come to the Centerburg meetings and right during the middle of the meeting they’ll want to comment about something we’re doing. We let them do it as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.”
The Ohio School Boards Association encourages school boards to dedicate a portion of each regular meeting to public participation. OSBA feels it is important for the public to be heard and permitting public participation is a valuable way for school boards to build a larger group of informed supporters. While public input is desirable, according to OSBA, individual board members or the board as a whole are not required to respond during public participation. The board may often take the matter under advisement, further study the matter, solicit more input and, after more information has been considered, take action at a later meeting.
All the local public boards of education in the News’ coverage area have policies related to public participation, but the specifics vary from district to district.
Most of the public participation policies state: “Any person or group wising to place an item on the agenda shall register their intent [and topic] with the superintendent no later than ten days prior to the meeting. Such requests shall be subject to the approval of the superintendent and the board president.” The East Knox policy suggests that individuals wishing to participate register their intent [and topic] with the treasurer in advance of the meeting rather than with the superintendent. None of the policies state that a person who simply wishes to speak must register in advance.
Contrary to what at least two persons were reportedly told when requesting to speak at the next Knox County Career Center board meeting on Thursday, none of the written policies require an individual to have a private meeting with the superintendent as a requisite to being placed on the agenda.
MOUNT VERNON — The location of Thursday night’s meeting of the Knox County Career Center Board of Education has been changed to the KCCC cafeteria, 306 Martinsburg Road.
An executive session is scheduled to start at 6 p.m., with the regular public meeting to begin at 7 p.m.
As local school districts are discussing the desire to be directly represented on the Knox County Career Center school board, KCCC board president Richard McLarnan sent a letter to the local school boards to answer that concern.
Clear Fork board president Gary Mathes said it is helpful if the board does have some advance notice when someone wants to address the board, but Clear Fork’s policy does not absolutely demand prior notification, and the board, in fact, permits both scheduled and unscheduled visitors to speak at its meetings.
With the sole exception of Knox County Career Center board policy, public participation at the meetings is permitted at the discretion of the presiding officer. KCCC’s policy says it is at the discretion of the superintendent.
Mount Vernon’s policy adds: “Anyone having a legitimate interest in the actions of the board may participate during the public portion of the meeting.” The speaker must register upon arrival at the meeting; Clear Fork, East Knox and North Fork also provide a sign-up sheet the day of the meeting.
Most policies say all statements made during the public participation portion of the meeting should be directed to the presiding officer. KCCC’s policy states comments should be directed to the superintendent.
Most of the districts place a time limit on public participation, three to five minutes per speaker and 15 to 30 minutes all together. Participation time limits may be extended by the presiding officer, according to most of the policies. The career center’s policy does not set a limit on the total public participation time period.
With the exception of KCCC, the board meeting agendas have a designated public participation spot on their agendas. KCCC’s typically has a line item called “Introduction of Visitors,” but does not specifically mention public participation. The September, October, November and January meetings did have a spot for “hearing of visitors” and the April agenda specified “public participation,” all near the very end of the meeting.
Fredericktown’s and North Fork’s agenda outline allows for public participation both near the beginning of the meeting and again near the end.
Clear Fork expressly allows for public comment on items not on the agenda in addition to topics published in the agenda.
KCCC board members Margie Bennett and Paula Barone have said they are interested in revising the KCCC public participation policy in order to accommodate community members who wish to address the board. However, no changes have been publicly proposed.