THE TRANSPARENCY SERIES
Ten months ago, you might remember the term, “Public Comment.” The school board voted in May of 2022 to change the procedure to read, “Comments to the Board.” The reasons they gave for the change were discussed during the April workshop which preceded the vote. You can see the article I wrote about this titled, “Ever Changing Comment” HERE). In summary, some Members of the Board wanted to avoid the controversy they saw in other districts whose residents would use Public Comment as a platform to go viral on social media with an agenda.
206 PROCEDURE : The Purpose of Comment to the Board
“The purpose of comments to the board period is to give community members an opportunity to provide input directly to the School Board about issues that fall within the School Board’s authority. To fulfill this purpose, comments must be directed to the School Board. Public comment is not a time for citizens to speak to the community or to the audience. For this reason, public comment sessions will not be recorded or livestreamed.”
The podium is normally positioned at least 6 feet off the Boards table, and at a slight angle to it, so this means the person speaking is facing the Board. Makes sense, right? I have lived in the district for 14 years. I attended meetings on and off in the beginning and more regularly in the last three. In all those years of “Public Comment,” the podium has ALWAYS been positioned FACING the board members seated at the table. At one point it was even in the middle of the room so that the speaker’s back faced the audience. For more history, you can see the article I wrote titled, “Public Comment: April” HERE.
This Thursday’s meeting was different though. The three speakers who signed up under the current, “Comment to the Board” didn’t in fact even FACE the Board. We faced the audience for the first time ever that I have seen. To look at the Board we had to look sideways or angle our body away from the podium.
I signed up to speak
because I wanted to address my school board members about the subject of academic achievement. I have already had multiple opportunities to speak in person with the Superintendent, and during those meetings I have asked her to present specific information to the board. Maybe she has done that. I honestly never know whether the information goes beyond our conversation because the Superintendent keeps me on a pretty short leash (which is an entirely other subject). Since The 7 people who sit on this board are my community members, and since they are the representatives who actually vote, I really just needed to speak, in person, to THEM.
I followed all the rules. I signed up ahead of time by 3:00 that day. I spoke for the 3 minute time limit. I was respectful and professional. I did not engage in character abuse or use vulgarity. I did not call out any individual staff member.
Do you want to know what the School Board heard ?
… half of them heard nothing …
Do you want to know what the audience in attendance heard ?
… nothing …
Do you want to know what the Executive Cabinet at the back of the room heard ?
… nothing …
Do you want to know what the residents listening from home heard …
… nothing …
The microphone was turned off.
Truth be told, the microphones were low for just about everyone that day, but it’s odd that those of us sitting in the audience could hear EVERYONE except Comments to the Board. We could even hear those who spoke at the podium after us.
So who WAS able to hear what I had to say?
Only those seated close enough were able to hear, and that was ONE non-voting Superintendent Nielsen and TWO non-voting Student Ambassadors. (It is also possible that two of the seven board members could hear me.)
No worries though. I emailed my speech to each Member of the Board, and I signed up to speak again next month. Do you think this time my microphone will be turned ON? I sure hope so, because I would like to speak to my elected officials about academic achievement. This shouldn’t be controversial.