Five ways to improve school board meetings
As a former member of the Dolores Board of Trustees and a former Mayor of Dolores I can attest to a few things I learned along the way about our community and the way our community members can best be heard. I must also add that I am the parent of a Dolores Elementary child who is fortunate to have a "spot" within your school district as our current residence is in the Cortez school district. Because I am out of district I don't feel comfortable making any demands on the Dolores School Board or any demands on school administration. We choose this school because for the last 11 years Dolores has been our home town.
That being said, I offer a few suggestions mostly regarding some basic changes that would increase formal public communication:
1. Pass a motion to adopt Roberts Rules of Order with accommodations to ask for public input on each topic before it goes to vote. In a nutshell, any agenda item needs to be debated among board members and staff without the public commenting. Let the board and staff talk it out - then ask if there is any input from the public attendees before the vote. Adopting this method (I call it the Dolores Rules of Order) was the first motion I asked for after being sworn in as Mayor and it served me well because I could control a room, keep everyone on the current topic, and everyone there always knew they could weigh in at the end.
2. Install a podium with a microphone and install microphones for board members and staff. Speaking from experience, the current board room is large and the acoustics are bad. The people in standing in the rear are mostly engaged in their own conservations partly because they are not hearing details when a vast majority of the dialog is coming from the other side of the room. The use of a podium empowers the public.
3. Encourage the public (including students) to formally address the board and make this process easier. The one week prior requirement to fill out paperwork should be abolished in order for people to formally speak. Although time is needed to create an agenda, I believe a system should exist where an e-mail 24 hours prior to meeting should suffice. Time limits and slot limits should be imposed. We want people to speak freely, formally and without being interrupted. Don't tell someone about "chain of command" if they have a grievance - everyone has the right, without being questioned, to go straight to the top which is the school board.
4. The public needs to be more respectful. These board members are volunteering their time because they want to help not because they want to be a doormat. These are your representatives and remember that it's not only what you ask but how you ask it. What we want is leadership (board members and staff) that have the opportunity to deal with the apparent backlog of issues. An ever revolving door of Board members, Principals, and Superintendents creates an environment on backlog - let's create an environment of realistic accountability. The current Principal of Dolores Elementary is a great example of the kind of leadership that we need but it takes time.
5. Turn off the cell phones. This should include EVERYONE!
In conclusion, I believe that if we made the following changes that everyone would benefit. We might even have some fun in the democratic process. There are some important issues at hand that need constructive debate on so let's fix some things and get on with it so we can serve our kids in the best way possible.