Stillwater News Press

Letters to the Editor

June 7, 2014

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: School board should hear public comments

STILLWATER, Okla. — Anna Greene-Hicks

Stillwater

To the editor:

At the close of the May 13 school board meeting, board member Kevin Clark proposed changes to board policy that would eliminate all avenues currently open to the public for two-way communication.

In policy BED-R, the proposal was made to eliminate the public’s ability to submit questions for the agenda to be publicly answered, to eliminate the Board’s ability to add to the agenda during the meeting and the ability of the board president to recognize speakers at the meeting to clarify questions or information presented on the agenda.

You can see the exchange during the last five minutes of the Board beeting:

http://www.stillwaterschools.com/SchoolBoard/MeetingReplays

We were told “it’s not typical of how school boards function.” So I did some research.

For comparison I used the board policies for school districts which Mr. Barnard used to justify his athletic stipend increase and added other districts that were even larger than ours to see how they handled the problem with many more patrons in their districts. I summarized my findings in a letter emailed to all five school board members.

Of the 13 school policies I reviewed, 100 percent of them allow public comments, 69 percent of them allow for dialogue with the public during the meetings, 92 percent of them have a method for the public to place items on the agenda and 30 percent of them even allow the Board to request input from the audience at their discretion. So contrary to Mr. Clark's statement, it IS typical for school boards to get reasonable input directly from the public.

In an April 9 email exchange with Dr. Caine, she told me, “one of the first things I did when I arrived in 2008 was to establish a monthly one-on-one meeting with each board member prior to our school board meeting. I would answer questions about the agenda items, as well as any other questions they had. It has really helped them go into our big meetings prepared to vote because if they need additional information I send it to them prior to the meeting.”

Which explains why so little information and discussion occurs in the board meetings and why they seem to have already decided how they will vote – Dr. Caine has already steered them in the direction she wants them to vote. So while the meeting has the appearance of being public because it is in the view, the decisions are made in these private meetings.

We have information that this policy will be changed at the next board meeting. Since this behind the scenes decision-making is already taking place outside of the view of the public, the public's being prohibited from discourse AT the board meetings would be a tragedy to our schools. Please contact your board member to ask they NOT eliminate the participation of their constituency.

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