Phone first if you want to be heard

If you want to address the South-Western City School Board of Education, you may have to call ahead.

At the Nov. 17 meeting, board members debated a revised policy on public participation.
Board President Cathy Johnson explained that the new policy would allow citizens to speak at the start of the meeting about items on the agenda. Those wishing to address the board regarding non-agenda items would have to call the superintendent’s office by 4 p.m. on Thursday to speak on Monday evening.

"This would give the administration a chance to hear the concerns before it came to the board," said Johnson.

Johnson explained that when a resident addresses the board regarding a non-agenda item, (such as a parent concerned about a bus incident) the case is assigned to a member of the administration staff. She believes many of the issues would be solved before the meeting.

"Many of these items are just things parents want resolved," Johnson stated.

Board members Mindy Garverick and Randy Reisling questioned the policy.

"Public participation is a very crucial part of the meeting," said Garverick. "I feel this puts another layer between the public and the board."

Reisling agreed and said he has a major problem with the Thursday call in deadline.

"I feel we are limiting the board’s chance to hear the public," he said.

Reisling asked what would the board do if an issue were to come up on a Friday.

"Do we have people wait several weeks to address the board?"

Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise said the new policy would simply give the administration "time to prepare." If the issue is resolved by the Monday meeting, Wise said people are still welcome to address the board.

Reisling said, "I don’t think we should stand in the way if people want to talk publically. I don’t think we are gaining anything and we should err on the side of openness."

Johnson said it is not the intent of the board to limit public participation. The board would also allow leeway to the policy at first so residents have time to adjust to the new rules.

According to the board, a school district in Wilmington, Ohio has adopted a similar policy.

"I think this will work and will work well," said Johnson.

Reisling was the only board member to vote against the measure. This was the board’s first reading on the policy. The second reading will take place at next month’s regular meeting on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. at the District Office.

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