BY KARISSA MILLER
The Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education is considering changes to the board’s guidelines for public participation in board meetings.
During this week’s Committee of the Whole meeting, the board discussed Policy #2310, which allows for a total of 30 minutes public comment and limits individuals to three minutes at the mic.
The policy also states, “At any time, the board may establish additional procedures to ensure that public comment sessions proceed in an efficient and orderly manner.”
Over the past few months, the school board meetings have resembled town hall meetings as people have shown up en masse to address the board. Many speakers have been passionate about their chosen topic and at times the atmosphere has become uncivil with shouting, obscene language.
Chairman Martin Page has had to restore order on more than one occasion and scolded members of the audience about their behavior.
Superintendent Jeff James reminded the board that public meetings are the time when the board does its work for the district.
“The purpose of the board is to conduct school business, “James said. “Again, we do need public input. We work for the public.”
The superintendent suggested that the board consider holding a separate called meeting to hear from the public on hot topics or controversial issues such as mask requirements.
“It behooves us to hear both side of the issue. You could set aside a couple of hours and let the general public make a comment,” he added.
However, James said that extending board meetings later into the evening is very taxing on school administrators who work all day before the meetings and then have to be at work early the next day.
Page said the board wants to hear from everyone.
“We’ve had groups try and completely take the (public comment period) time over. That’s one of the reasons that it bothers me — that some groups will take completely every bit of it and won’t let you hear from the other side.”
In the past, when a group of people have signed up to speak on the same topic, the board has asked a few people to speak on behalf of the group to allow others an opportunity to speak.
Page stressed that residents can also send their comments to him by email.
During this week’s meeting, Vice Chairman Todd Carver suggested that the board revise the policy to allow speakers two and a half minutes to speak. That would allow the board to hear from more people.
“That way it doesn’t look like we are trying to cherry pick it,” Carver said. “I don’t think we will have more than 20.”
Long standing board member Charles Kelly said that the board has never been overloaded with public comment.
“I think it’s worked very well and it’s a good policy,” said Kelly, who favors leaving the policy the way it is.
School board attorney Dean Shatley with Campbell Shatley Law Firm will bring back a draft of the revised policy with Carver’s suggestion.
Another change, Shatley said, will be reiterating that complaints regarding student matters and personnel are confidential and aren’t appropriate for public comment.
The board will review and possibly vote to adopt amended guidelines about public participation at its meeting next Monday at 6 p.m. The meeting, held at 350 Murdock Road in Troutman, is open to the public.