Sonia Delgadillo: Civility during board meetings is important
In our community, educational issues make headlines and are hot topics of discussion.
It’s surprising then that many don’t understand the roles in our educational system.
Additionally, an understanding of school board meeting procedures is lacking. So, here is a brief primer in civics and civility.
School board members are elected officials and it’s their responsibility to impart the community’s vision and priorities to the schools. The primary way they do this is to hire a superintendent to implement these.
The superintendent is responsible for the performance of the schools in both educational and fiscal matters. The superintendent is the expert in areas of education including curriculum and law, district office personnel report to and follow direction from the superintendent.
Unlike most employees of a school district, the superintendent is an “at will” employee, who serves at the pleasure of the board.
While a district superintendent has responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the district and its schools, it is the community’s vision of the schools, through the direction of the elected board, which should be followed — and the community includes parents, teachers and students.
This has been made abundantly clear since state law requires parent and public input in developing, revising, and updating Local Control Accountability Plans.
The public school board meeting is the only place where decisions may be made by the board, and it is open to all interested stakeholders. Only very limited confidential items may be discussed during the closed session.
The public has every right to ask questions and comment on any agenda item and all documents related to the agenda must be made available to the public. Also, nearly all documentation, including written communication, is available to the public upon request.
This is guaranteed through the Freedom of Information Act. Additionally, during the public comments section of a board meeting, any member of the public may comment on any issue related to the school district.
This can be an intimidating process, especially if the atmosphere at a board meeting is not welcoming.
Recently, the Nevada Joint Union High School District board censured one of its own members. Unfortunately, inappropriate behavior has not been limited to one member.
Over the past several years, I have witnessed the following actions: trustees raise their voices at speakers, berate or interrupt speakers, read documents and not listen to speakers, and roll their eyes while members of the public spoke or other trustees spoke.
Rules have been inconsistently enforced as when applause is allowed from some groups, but not others. A trustee has instructed another trustee that she cannot abstain; this can be viewed as inappropriately influencing a vote.
A trustee grabbed the microphone from the president and snapped at the audience. These actions have been witnessed by parents, students, teachers, classified staff, members of the general public and the press.
And recently, the board president suggested to a parent (me) not to make a presentation to the rest of the board on a subject we discussed during a meeting which included the superintendent.
When pressed as to why the rest of the board should not be informed of the contents of our meeting, she agreed to allow a presentation but asked that the presentation be limited to two and a half minutes.
Rules actually allow any member of the public to place an item on the board agenda, and an unreasonable time limit cannot be imposed. However, in the spirit of cooperation, I limited myself to the president’s request.
However, the rest of the board did have questions and this made for a very tense and awkward situation.
When I explained to the entire board that the president had indicated she wanted the presentation to be very limited, she stated that what she had meant was to limit questions from the public.
After the meeting, the president apologized and explained that she had been joking in asking three times to limit my presentation to two and a half minutes.
Per Robert’s Rule, “Under no circumstances should ‘undue strictness’ be allowed to intimidate members or limit full participation.”
Serving on a school board is a tremendous responsibility. It is difficult work and usually thankless, involving a great deal of sacrifice of time and energy.
However, given that school boards represent their constituents and are ultimately answerable to the public and responsible for the success of our schools, we must hold them accountable for their actions and behavior.
Civility during board meetings is only one, but an important, step in creating a respectful partnership with the community.
Sonia Delgadillo lives in Alta Sierra.
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Several years ago, I wrote “The myth of the accidental overdose” (April 19, 2019, Other Voices, The Union).