Kenosha Unified School Board to keep board responses to citizen comments off agendas
The possibility of putting board comments back on the regular agenda was being pushed by resident Gary Kunich, who repeated his case during citizens comments at Tuesday’s meeting. He contends the board comments were a good way for citizens to get immediate feedback on their concerns when necessary.
“Tonight you will decided if the civics lessons taught in your schools also apply to the board,” Kunich said.
The board had a long-standing policy of replying or commenting on some citizens comments. The board stopped that practice earlier this year after a board seminar examining its practices shortly after the hiring of new superintendent Michele Hancock.
Board President Mary Snyder acknowledged the board could legally continue the comments, but pointed out that legal counsel said such comments by a board were very rare. Many boards do not even allow citizen comments she added. (All Kenosha County school boards have time on their agendas for citizens comments — DH)
When items addressed by citizens also are on a meeting agenda, board members voice their views when the agenda item is considered, Snyder pointed out.
“We want to focus on agenda items,” she said “That’s why we meet.” Responding to citizen comments at a meeting sometimes led to discussion about non-agenda items.
Other board members also addressed other negative effects of having the board respond to citizens comments, including adding to divisiveness and drawing out meetings.
“We take the time to listen to the public before every meeting,” board member Carl Bryan said. “We want to do right by the students. What does political grandstanding do for kids?”
Gilbert Ostman was the only board member who supported bringing back board comments, He said in his combined 41 years of experience with the board as a teacher and then as a board member, this was the first year the board did not include comments after citizen comments. He dissmissed concerns about the process turning the board meetings into a circus, advising board members to not take citizens comments personally.
“I just think it’s a serious mistake if we don’t reinstate board comments,” said Ostman, who was the only vote against keeping board responses to citizen comments off the agenda.
After the meeting, Kunich, who presented 18 other statements of support for his position to the School Board, expressed disappointment.
“To say I am disappointed would be an understatement, though I expected it,” Kunich said. “They don’t deal in transparency. They deal in arrogance. Shame on them.”
Just before the board comments decision, the board also adopted a policy for reacting to citizen concerns expressed at meetings. The three-prong approach includes action by administrators, and dissemination of answers via a program on the cable access channel and the district website. Snyder said the policy was already practice, but the board wished to formalize the procedures.