I can't tell you how many times in the past year and a half or so that I've been covering the School Board that so many people have shown up to a meeting, they don't all fit in the boardroom.
Great news, right? When you get 200 or so people to miss dinner with their family on a Wednesday night to watch the slow wheels of democracy in action, they must be pretty motivated to get involved in their schools.
Everyone agrees that parent involvement is key to improving the schools. And School Board meetings provide the prime opportunity for parents (and everyone else) to get involved and speak directly to those in power.
So it seems a little curious that the School Board meetings are actually designed to shut people out.
As a matter of fact, not only is it curious -- it also violates state law.
You see, the state's Open Meetings Law is rather clear about government bodies needing to make their public meetings accessible to, well, the public. The idea is, if you want to attend a meeting of your city council or school board, you have the right to do that -- whether you're in a wheelchair, or whether you arrive a few minutes late, or whether a bunch of your neighbors want to attend that meeting, too.
Here's what the law says, in part:
Public bodies shall make or cause to be made all reasonable efforts to ensure that meetings are held in an appropriate facility which can adequately accommodate members of the public who wish to attend such meetings.
A few floors up, Common Council chambers can seat nearly 400 people.
And, according to the city's website, "The room is acoustically treated making the room perfect in the way of sound, even without a microphone."
Wow -- added bonus. Not only could the School Board actually comply with the state's Open Meetings Law by providing enough seating (two to three times as many seats as in the current boardroom) for the size of the crowds that show up -- but those who show up would actually be able to hear what's going on.
Speaking of hearing what goes on at board meetings...
Last week, I posted an item, "If board members speak and no one can hear them..." -- addressing the fact that it is incredibly difficult for people in the audience to actually hear what is said at the board table.
Apparently a few people read it.
When Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon started to address the audience at last week's board meeting, a woman in the audience hollered out that she couldn't hear Dixon. So Dixon did something I've never seen anyone in that room do before -- grab a microphone and (gasp) turn it on. Voila. Everyone in the room could hear what she said.
The excitement didn't end there. When Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes got up to the podium and addressed the board, he, too, used a microphone that was actually turned on. And he wasn't the only one. Other administrators, too, used a microphone. A couple of board members even used the microphones that have been sitting, unused, for months (and probably years).
So kudos to the officials who made the effort to pick up a mic and flick a switch to make sure the public could hear what's going on. Let's hope it becomes contagious.
Just imagine what might happen if there was actually enough room to seat all the people who care enough to get involved -- and they could even hear what was going on.
District officials might get what they always say they want: more parental involvement.
- Mary Pasciak