The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

Archive for the ‘Carbondale School Districts’ Category

District 95 Transparency Policy Falls Short

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I encourage interested readers to click over to school board member Amy Erickson’s blog (link) and take a look at the proposed transparency policy. I’ll quote from Erickson’s post:

Please review some of the proposed ideas or policy statements from that meeting below.

  1. The public needs to turn in a request to address the Board in person to the Superintendent’s office 24-48 hours prior to a General School Board meeting.
  2. Community may comment after opening the meeting and before the close (in General or Committee Mtg.)
  3. The minutes should only contain pertinent information such as required in the OMA.
  4. A draft of the minutes can be prepared and placed online 7 days in advance for review
  5. Anyone can suggest the minutes to be amended
  6. The meetings may be videotaped and broadcasted

Most of this seems okay, but there are two exceptions. If I read this correctly, point number one would require community members to submit a form in advance in order to speak at a school board meeting. To me, this seems designed to discourage public comment, rather than to encourage it. Citizen’s comments are taken at city council meetings with no advance notice, so why should notice be required for the public to comment at school board meetings?

If I read number two correctly, citizens would be allowed to comment at the beginning and end of meetings, which is good, but I see no mention of comment on particular agenda items. I’ll again refer to the practice used at city council meetings. Citizens are allowed to comment on each agenda item before a vote is taken. I’ll again ask, why should school board meetings be different?

I encourage the board to create a policy that encourages participation from the community. The board doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel – it can simply follow the example set by the city government. Unless the board can offer a compelling reason to limit public comment, they shouldn’t do it. If they can offer a compelling reason to limit comment, I’m eager to hear it.

The board meets tonight at 5:30 p.m. at the CES Administrative Office on Giant City Road, and the meeting is open to the public.

Again, I encourage readers to click here to read Erickson’s entire post. 

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

July 21, 2011 at 7:45 am

District 95 – Transcript of Comments, Letter Sent to Board

with 2 comments

Last week I wrote a post criticizing comments made at the April 28 District 95 school board meeting and I want to follow up with a transcript of those comments. The transcript is within the text of a letter to the District 95 school board from attorney Richard Fedder, who is assisting newly elected board member Amy Erickson. The entire text of the letter is below the asterisks.

You can also click here to view the letter as a pdf.

Last week’s post attracted several comments and I suspect this post will attract a few as well. So far, there have been no problems, but I know people can get passionate about schools, so I want to remind everyone of the comment policy. I will delete comments that are hateful or libelous. Hateful means racist, sexist, heterosexist/homophobic, xenophobic, etc. Libel is a little more nebulous, but you can click here for some guidance.

I believe in free speech and I use a light touch with comments. The best idea is to follow the example I’ve set in the posts. I make it a point to assume that people are smart and well meaning. I sometimes criticize ideas or behavior but I do not question or criticize character. I encourage others to do the same in their comments. As I said above, so far all the comments have been fine.

I’ll add one more thing. If the District 95 school board or any member of it wants to offer a response to Fedder’s letter, send it to me and I’ll post it. Of course, you can also leave your response in the comments.

Here is the full text of the letter:   Read the rest of this entry »

Written by The Carbondale Observer

July 6, 2011 at 7:45 am

District 95, Transparency, and Accountability

with 11 comments

Before I began this post I knew it would be one of the most difficult I’ve written. It’s difficult because I don’t have much background knowledge on the school districts. I’ve followed the city council for over ten years, but I haven’t paid much attention to the school districts until recently. I’m going to do the best I can on this post because the school boards are important and they don’t get much coverage in the old media.

When people talk about the obstacles to Carbondale’s growth, there are a few items that are frequently mentioned. There is the claim that Carbondale is unfriendly to business, the perception that crime is high in Carbondale, the fact that taxes are higher in Jackson County than in Williamson. There is also another problem: the schools in Carbondale – especially the elementary schools –  don’t perform as well as the rural school and the schools in surrounding towns.

District 95 first attracted my attention back in March when the city was considering providing funding for a summer reading and math program at the district. Although I didn’t cover it on the blog, I also noticed that there was an active campaign for a seat on the District 95 school district. More recently, I heard about some disparaging remarks made by an incumbent board member to newly elected member Amy Erickson at the April 28 meeting. And last week, a letter appeared in the Carbondale Times criticizing some of the board’s incumbents for their behavior at that meeting.

I learned last month that the disparaging remarks made at the April 28 school board meeting were not included in the minutes of that meeting. I decided to attend the June 23 meeting. It wasn’t as eventful as the last two meetings, but there was some controversy over the minutes of the May meeting. I’m still learning about this issue, but I want to offer some preliminary comments.

First, it’s important for public bodies to keep accurate records of their proceedings. When one official publicly berates another official, that behavior should be part of the record.

Second, public officials must respect the outcome of elections. Even when their preferred candidates aren’t elected, public officials have a duty to work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. I’ve seen a transcript of the remarks made at the April 28 meeting, and they aren’t kind. It isn’t appropriate for public officials to behave that way toward one another. I’m not going to publish the transcript today, but I may post it in the future.

Third, all units of government, from Congress to the school board, should operate in the sunshine. There can be no accountability without transparency. I’m not alleging that the school board has violated the law; they haven’t. I have no information that would suggest that the school board has failed to publish the dates and times of its meetings or that the board hasn’t allowed the public to attend.

But sometimes it isn’t enough to do the minimum. It’s time for the school board to televise its meetings on channel 16. The city council and various city boards and commissions televise their meetings. District 95 should follow that example. Televising the meetings would enlarge the audience and it might encourage better behavior by the board members.

I’m going to continue to monitor District 95, and I’m going to continue to learn about the relevant issues. I expect to write more about this in the future.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

June 30, 2011 at 7:45 am

District 95 Summer Reading and Math Program Passes

with 3 comments

The Carbondale City Council passed the controversial District 95 summer reading and math program on a 4-3 vote at Tuesday’s meeting. Outgoing Mayor Brad Cole voted for the program, along with council members Steven Haynes, Michael Neill, and Corene McDaniel. Mayor-elect Joel Fritzler opposed the program along with council members Mary Pohlmann and Chris Wissmann. This was the expected outcome.

The citizen’s comments were interrupted by a tornado warning that forced the council and the public to the basement, then cut short when the meeting resumed. That’s probably for the best, as they were beginning to get ugly. There has been a passionate debate around this issue. Both sides have expressed their views. Now the issue is settled and we should move forward.

The council comments featured farewell speeches from Mary Pohlmann, Michael Neill, Joel Fritzler, and Brad Cole. All of them were pretty good. The city posts audio of city council meetings here. They should be available in a few days, and they are worth a listen.

I watched from home on Channel 16 but unfortunately I missed the consent agenda.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

April 19, 2011 at 10:37 pm

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