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R-1 board communication policy being questioned
by Stacy Wiedmaier
Landmark reporter

The issue of the accepted way for patrons to communicate with the North Platte School Board was a topic of interest at the board's regular monthly meeting last Wednesday night.

Several residents who have formed a new organization called Partners for Education were present. Their goals include enhancing and encouraging communication between the community and the school board. The group has more than 10 active members. Community members who are interested are invited to participate. The Partners for Education hope to assist the board by using the community’s input, and they began this process at Wednesday’s meeting.

The board’s policy states that anyone wanting to make a public comment before the board, whether a resident, parent, or student, must contact the superintendent’s office six days prior to the meeting so their name can be placed on the evening’s agenda. This policy has been used since May 2004.

Many other school boards operate where anyone can attend the meeting and simply fill out a comment card when they arrive which states their topic to be discussed. But North Platte has chosen to go what critics feel is a less friendly route.

If a resident has not called and requested to be placed on the agenda six days before the meeting, the board will not recognize the individual and they do not have the opportunity to be heard.

This fact has upset the Partners for Education, who feels this policy is not user -friendly and can be problematic when an individual misses the six day deadline and is forced to wait until the board’s next meeting a month away. They feel this policy is convenient for the board members, but not for the patrons who voted them into office.

“Many of the board members campaigned on how important communication is,” said Cindy Rinehart, who is a patron of the school district, former school board member, and member of Partners for Education.

“We are not here to ask for an open forum, but instead the opportunity to be heard. It's just common courtesy. Much of the public has not been informed of the policy in place and don’t know about it. It’s too easy for the board to require individuals to be placed on the agenda, rather than taking the time to listen to their concerns.

“Community members that I have spoken with inside and outside the district are appalled at this policy,” Rinehart stated. She said in her opinion there is no logical reason the board should require the placement on the agenda. A local attorney she contacted did not feel as though this was a viable reason for the current policy.

The Partners for Education suggested the use of comment cards being provided for patrons to hand to the board at the beginning of the meeting, stating what issue the resident wants to discuss. The group is not suggesting to remove the current agenda's requirements, but offering an additional option by using the comment cards. The group feels changing this policy will help improve public relations at the same time improving communications.

The superintendent, Dr. Francis Moran, said he feels the policy currently in place where the patron must be on the agenda to speak is the best way. He suggested the board members can visit with the patrons in the community to learn if a miscommunication has taken place.

“If this policy needs to be looked at, we will do so,” said Moran. “I believe there are some issues which should not be discussed publicly, one of these being personnel issues. Privacy issues are important and I cannot undo the damage of words spoken.”

While this policy was being questioned, board member Mike Fisher said he has never heard of any type of board meeting being held where comment cards are used.

“I’ve been on this board for less than a year, and I never knew this was an option. I’m familiar with the town of North Kansas City and they have the same policy we do where patrons must be on the agenda and the meetings run very smoothly.”

This policy in question states that ‘Any member of the public who wishes to have an item placed on the agenda will present the request in writing to the superintendent. The request should be permitted pursuant to Board Policy and received six days prior to the scheduled meeting. This request should also include detailed background information, the item will then be appropriately placed on the agenda.’

Moran said this policy has been used since the date it was enacted, whether patrons were aware of it or not.

“Not many people come to our board meetings and if they had called me to be placed on the agenda, then they would have had this policy explained to them,” Manor said.

The policy for Platte County R-3’s School Board meeting involves the use of both comment cards or calling ahead to be placed on the agenda. By choosing this route, Superintendent Mark Harpst said it is easy for residents to choose the option which works best for them.

“Our policy states patrons can use either route to communicate with the board. We recommend they go through the proper administrative channels first, which includes bringing the issue or questions to their teacher or principal,” said Harpst.

“By going through these channels, it makes sure the resident’s issue is something the board is responsible for. But people can still come in the meetings and fill out a comment card stating their name and topic to be discussed. The purpose of this is so the board knows who they are and is made aware of what issue they are bringing to the table. Using these types of cards is pretty typical for how boards operate.”



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