Timberlane’s School Board was justly smacked around in the press for disregarding First Amendment rights when it tried to impose unconstitutional restrictions on free speech with its School Board Rules in March 2014. Sadly, the board is once again exhibiting its intolerance for other’s unscripted opinions — this time, yours.
On March 5th at 5:30 pm in the SAU building, Timberlane’s Policy Committee will consider a policy change that will make it impossible for parents to publicly raise an issue to the board unless it is on the agenda. This is a giant swipe at your right to responsive government.
Here is the objectionable part of the proposed Policy BEDH, Public Participation at School Board Meetings:
In order to assure that persons who wish to appear before the Board may be heard and, at the same time, it may conduct its meetings properly and efficiently, the Board adopts as policy the following procedures and rules pertaining to public participation at Board meetings:
1. During the “Delegations and Individuals” section of each Board meeting residents may comment for up to three minutes (unless waived by the Board) by completing a comment card and submitting it to the recording secretary at the beginning of the meeting.
2. Members of the public may offer comments on agenda items only. The Board will not entertain comments on items that do not appear on the agenda.
Requests to address the Board on matters not on the agenda must be presented to the Superintendent and must set forth the specifics of the subject to be addressed. When appropriate, the Board may place such requests on the agenda.
Members of the public will have exactly three minutes (formerly five) to address the board concerning any topic which is ON THE AGENDA. You might think this a reasonable policy until you realize that the board consistently refuses to add things to the agenda which do not serve their purpose. I have never been successful in getting any of my issues placed on a regular agenda. Recently Mr. Artus from Atkinson asked for an issue to be placed on the agenda. It was denied. And please don’t think that school board meetings are delayed by multitudes clamoring to address the board. No, not at all. Most people would feel more comfortable facing the Grand Inquisitor where they’d certainly be given more than three minutes.
I suspect this proposed policy change was prompted by rogue budget committee members making comments before the school board that it would rather not hear, as occurred with Mr. Green and Ms. Gorman, school budget committee representatives from Sandown. But what hurts them, hurts parents just as much.
The school board likes to say, “School Board meetings are meetings held in public; not meetings held for the public.” The policy further goes on to say:
Persons appearing before the Board are reminded that members of the Board are without authority to act independently as individuals in official matters. Thus, questions may be directed to individual Board members, but answers must be deferred pending consideration by the full Board. Therefore, Board members will take comments and presentations from the public under advisement only.
In other words, since we can’t control what another board member might say in response to a question from the public, we make a policy to keep members gagged and you, dear peon, can go home proud that you have had your three minutes to attend us.
Will writing a letter be the better way to communicate with the board? Sorry Hans…. wrong guess. In my nearly one year on the board, the only time a letter was discussed was when I brought it up. Letters are placed in a correspondence folder that is NOT available before meetings (by conscious decision). The only chance a school board member has to see these letters is DURING a meeting when other business is being discussed or after a meeting when it can’t be discussed at all.
Please don’t think this appalling arrogance and lack of respect for the concerns of parents, fellow elected officials, and community members is an issue with Timberlane alone. It infects school boards across the state, but I would be proud if it stopped at Timberlane.
Regretfully, it isn’t likely to stop at Timberlane and the Policy Committee will probably approve these proposed changes as will the school board – because it serves their interest to do so. If you don’t protest in the next few meetings before the policy goes to the laughable conceit of “Second Reading,” you won’t have the opportunity to do so again.
It is through a thousand cuts like this that parents lose control of education.
P.S. For the curious, our Policy Committee is co-chaired by the superintendent. It is the administration that brings policies before the Policy Committee with all their desired changes outlined and ready for approval. Your elected officials, as usual, are going along with the administration’s agenda instead of the other way around.