The public will have more opportunities to address the Pasco School Board under new guidelines for the board’s public meetings.
Board President Scott Lehrman said members will be free to engage more with people speaking during the public comment portion of each meeting beginning next school year. People also will be free to make public comments related to reports from district administrators.
Board governance is also changing, as members want to spend more time dealing with issues pertaining directly to student achievement and less on administrative concerns, Lehrman said, adding that means more consistency in how the district deals with everything from curriculum to discipline.
The board has been criticized in the past for not being transparent or providing opportunities for members of the public to give their perspectives on issues affecting Pasco schools. While other steps were taken to increase public involvement, such as recent community forums, Lehrman said the board decided it needed to do more.
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“It’s just to continue our efforts as a board to have more two-way dialogue,” Lehrman said.
The board discussed the changes at recent meetings as the deadline nears to finalize the board meeting calendar for the 2016-17 school year. An initial proposal was to have one board meeting per month be almost exclusively focused on having discussions with community members, either on topics of their choice or on predetermined issues.
“I think we all recognize the need for more community input,” board member Steve Christensen said.
The concept had some support, with board member Aaron Richardson saying other portions of the meeting format could be shortened or removed for that particular meeting each month. But board member Amy Phillips questioned whether the board could get through its business in a timely enough fashion, as such a meeting could easily be taken up with public comments.
It’s just to continue our efforts as a board to have more two-way dialogue.
Scott Lehrman, board president
That led to further discussion during a special meeting this past Monday, and the decision to allow more board member engagement during public comments and more opportunity to comment after specific agenda items.
The Richland School Board also has a public comment period that allows the public to speak after individual agenda items. Kennewick School Board meetings have a public comment period, but the board schedules in time for public comment on specific issues likely to garner lots of interest, such as boundary changes.
While adding more opportunity for the public to speak up is likely to make meetings longer, Lehrman said changes to board governance should lead to some time savings.
“Anything that increases our stakeholder involvement is good,” Lehrman told the Herald.
The changes will affect how the superintendent and district staff report on various issues, hopefully leading to better anticipation of board member questions and how programs and initiatives affect the district more broadly, Lehrman said.