Gordon BOE discusses policy of public participation at Board meetings
Brandi Owczarz, Owner/Publisher
Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019
In an attempt to continue to review policy and to give better transparency to the public, the Gordon County Board of Education discussed a couple of possible policy changes, the major one being BCBI: Public Participation in Board Meetings.
Last revised in 2014, the first reading on BCBI: Public Participation in Board Meetings is an attempt to simplify and hammer down the process for concerned citizens speaking before the Board.
The suggested policy change reads: “Meetings of the Gordon County Board of Education are held to conduct the affairs and business of the school system. Although these meetings are not meetings of the public, the public is invited to attend all meetings and members of the public are invited to address the Board at appropriate times and in accordance with procedures established by the Board or the Superintendent. The Board requires individuals to contact the Superintendent, the administrative staff and/or local school administrators in an effort to secure a satisfactory solution to any concerns at the lowest level possible prior to referral to the Board of Education. The Superintendent shall make available at board meetings procedures that specify how members of the public may address the Board on issues of concern. These procedures shall also be available at the offices of the school district and shall be given upon request, to anyone requesting a copy. All presentations to the Board are to be brief and are intended for the Board to hear comments or concerns without taking action.”
“I think part of the problem we seem to have is the public doesn’t feel like they have a voice very often in our affairs,” said Board member Eddie Hall. “I would like to see us have a public comment time, whether its five minutes or 10 minutes- whatever you want it to be, where anybody in the audience that wanted to step up and speak (before the Board) can very well do so. Not a back and forth with the Board, but if somebody has something they want us to be aware of. But I feel like it’s a perception that we don’t invite the public to be a part of our (meetings). The system they have to go through now (to speak before the Board) to get on the agenda, it’s perceived as hard to get on the agenda. To be honest, I don’t know how many people will take advantage of it, but the thought that they could (participate). The school board is the most very basic function of democratic government and the most ‘of the people’ government that we have. I just feel like we’ve got in the habit, not intentionally, of not making people a part of (the meetings), and I think we could make our life a lot easier just doing simple things like this.”
“I’ve suggested in the past that twice a year, we schedule it a year out, one time go to Sonoraville High School and have all of their feeder schools come to a town hall meeting; then you have another one at Gordon Central with all of their feeder schools,” said Board member Jason Hendrix. “If we had them designated twice a year, but it’s a special time of year and everybody has a time to get on their soapbox and talk for five minutes or however long we set it for.”
“Y’all are trying to circumvent what the superintendent and her staff is supposed to do,” said Board member Bobby Hall, whose comment got a lot of mumbles from the crowd. “Everybody will start coming to the school board and bypass the whole system. Our job (as elected board members) is to be overseers; we make sure the process in which they go through is a process that will get answers to our citizens and our parents. If we start listening to everything that comes this way, do you know who is going to be doing the arbitration and the other things? You’ll be taking it to the Superior Court. And that’s where you’ll be hammering it out. And they have a right to do that after they go through us. You know, they have a right to come and address the issues, but we’re not going to answer them. Most of the time, whenever they have a question, they go down to the superintendent’s office and this young lady right here invites them in and says ‘tell me about your problem.’ And then she goes to work for them to try to resolve the issue. We (as elected Board members) are not problem solvers and we’re not problem listener too. I get called out in public asking me about particular things. I usually tell them that I go to all the Board training to be able to talk professional with them. Now I know you’re not going to please everyone in this community, and certainly when they come and talk right here and you don’t answer them back, when they catch you out on the street they’re going to give you an earful. That’s why it’s important (Dr. Fraker) takes care of it along with her staff. You’re wanting to do something that’s really not the Board’s responsibility. We’re not even employees of the Gordon County system. We’re lay people that make a decision to produce policy. They don’t want to talk to me. They can get their best answer from (the superintendent and staff). Now, if I’m on the street, I’m going to talk to (the public). I’m in just about every area of this county at any given time.”
“I appreciate what you’re saying,” said Dr. Kimberly Fraker to Bobby Hall. “I think we can do a better job promoting what the process is to get on the agenda. I think we can make it more user friendly and clarify what the process and procedures are. I do appreciate what it says in our current policy about trying to solve things at the lowest level. I understand what you’re saying about clarifying the process and procedures. I would hate to restrict it to one or two times a year, but we can always put it on there as a write-in and if no one applies to speak, then when it comes to public participation, I would say ‘We’ve had no one apply.’”
One of the issues brought up is the current seven days’ notice the school system needs to put someone on an agenda to speak before the Board.
“The reason for the seven days is to make sure we get it on the agenda,” said Fraker. “And if that still works for everyone, we continue that or we can talk about that timeline.”
“I think it needs to be structured, that’s why we have the agenda. It’s very structured because we need to know the business of the school, which is why we conduct business at the Board meetings,” said Board member Dana Stewart. “Public participation is welcomed as long as it’s structured.”
“I’m not trying to overstep the chain of command,’ said Hendrix. “I just thought it’d be something good to look at.”
“I think it’d be a good idea to have the meetings at Gordon Central and Sonoraville, just to show that we’re involved in the whole county,” said Board Chair Charlie Walraven. “But to have someone talk at every meeting, I’m not in favor of that unless they go through the process we have in place now.”
“We’re going to tell people in the United States of America that they can come to a meeting of people they elect and have no chance to speak to them,” asked Eddie Hall.
“It was stated in the training we had that everybody has to be given the same process,” said Fraker. “As long as everybody has the same opportunity, so whatever that process might be.”
“I feel like if we did it at a town hall, maybe we can even get students involved,” said Hendrix. “If we get the students involved in the basic form of government, let them see what’s going on and let them see what we are trying to do. We can get the audio video classes involved (in filming). It’s not about trying to go around the chain of command. I understand what we do and what the position of my job, I was just trying to offer that as something that we could do.”
“We did a town hall early on in my early years,” said Bobby Hall. “And we went to every school, we had a moderator at every school. We got a lot of good ideas out of it at the high schools because the high school kids came. But no participation. But I wouldn’t be opposed to have meetings like that, to give the public the opportunity to come, but you’ll have to set rules on it because you’re going to get the same people that’s upset at something is going to be at every one of them. Set school areas and announce when we will be at your school area to speak at such and such time.”
Also announced during the meeting on Monday to help with transparency was that beginning next month, Board meetings will be live streamed for the public to view.
Board member Kacee Smith asked how the meetings beginning next months will be live streamed; if they will be on Facebook Live or YouTube.
“It’s on a live stream website,” said Fraker, saying it is the same site the system uses for streaming football games and graduation. The live stream link will be posted on social media platforms, and the video will be archived on the GCBE website.
Fraker then asked if any of the Board members had any changes they’d like to see made to the wording of the policy.
“Just make it more prominent (on the website),” said Hendrix.
The next meeting of the Gordon County Board of Education will be held on Monday, Oct. 14 at 6:30 p.m. Meetings are held at the Gordon County College & Career Academy, located on Beamer Road in Calhoun.