Dr. Julie Flieg, superintendent of the Ste. Genevieve R-II School District, last week introduced new guidelines on public comments during Board of Education meetings.
The district’s practice of handling public comments had come under scrutiny since the August 21, 2018 meeting, which dozens of angry patrons attended. About 35 minutes were allotted for public comment on the handling of a personnel issue.
In following meetings, the district was criticized for its policy of not answering specific questions at meetings, among other things.
More angry comments were made at the November meeting. At the December meeting, John Stuppy, a former Ste. Genevieve alderman, said he had talked to personnel at other school districts and said that some of those boards did answer patrons’ questions.
“This topic came up several months ago,” Flieg said during the board meeting last week on May 21. “An individual was talking about other school districts, and I think even Jefferson College and how they do things. So I spoke with the board and I began researching and talking to school districts and pulling up other school districts’ policies to see if we were doing something that was out of line with what those school districts were doing.”
She said she also checked the Missouri School Boards Association policy.
The current R-II policy was adopted in 2016, allowing for 15 minutes of public comment, with no one speaking more than once and for no longer than five minutes.
That policy will remain in effect, with the new guidelines being developed in line with that policy.
The “first avenue” to express grievances is to “follow the chain of command,” in Flieg’s words, by contacting the teacher first, then the building principal, and then Flieg. Only after those avenues are exhausted should a patron look at bringing the issue up at a board meeting.
Patrons may also write or e-mail board members. Members’ e-mail addresses are listed on the R-II website, Flieg said. Letters can be sent to the district office. Flieg said she will make sure individual members get letters addressed to them. Any letters addressed to the school board as a whole will be delivered to board president David Bova.
The new guidelines, which would take effect in July, maintains the basic structure of time limits, but adds some new stipulations.
The biggest one is that a public comment card must be filled out and submitted by 6:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the start of the meeting, in order to speak at a meeting. A short written description of what the individual intends to talk about must be included. The person must sign the card, confirming that he or she has read the district’s public comments policy. Negative comments may not be made about any identifiable individual; personnel matters must be discussed in closed session. The speaker will be stopped if the topic is entering an area that needs to be handled in closed session and “the speaker will be solely responsible for his or her statements,” according to the policy.
The speaker must be a district resident.
Also, to have a topic placed on the agenda, outside of the public comment section, the request must be submitted five business days prior to the meeting. Flieg said that Fox School District in Arnold requires submissions 10 days in advance.
Flieg said its policy is more open than many districts.
See complete story in the May 29 edition of the Herald.