No public comments allowed at Alexandria School Board, for now
Board members and administration look for solution as meetings have become contentious and uncomfortable.
For the January and February regular Alexandria School Board meetings, there will not be a public comment period. Instead, persons wishing to address the board are being asked to do so by email.
“We’ve had some contentious and uncomfortable times the past few meetings and I don’t want to do that anymore,” said board member Dean Anderson.
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After a lengthy discussion at the Monday, Jan. 3, special school board reorganizational meeting, Anderson made a motion to put the public comment period on hiatus for at least two months while the school board and administration do some research on how other schools allow for public comment or how they handle issues needing to be addressed at meetings by members of the public.
“Let’s do this hiatus, then come back and reevaluate,” said Anderson. “I think there’s a momentum underfoot that we need to stop, a negative momentum that needs to stop.”
He said that the school board still welcomes comments, but would like them in email format and they would like them at around 400 words or less.
The board voted 6-1 to approve Anderson’s motion. Newly elected School Board member Maureen Eigen voted against it.
Eigen wasn’t entirely against the idea, but did not want to limit public comment for two months. She suggested doing it for just one month. Eigen also said it is valuable for the whole board to hear from the public and that if things get out of hand it shouldn’t fall on just the board chair, that the other members of the board could step in and speak up.
“We should have each other’s backs,” she said.
She said the board should be careful about limiting parents from being able to express their thoughts and that she had concerns about having no public comment period.
Zeithamer said that when Angie Krebs, the board chair, has used her gavel to try and maintain order, those in the audience have not been respectful to her. He also said that as meetings have grown more contentious, he is becoming increasingly concerned about safety. Zeithamer said that the crowd comes with the best of intentions, but that he has seen behaviors out of sorts for people in this community.
“They have behaved and said things out of character,” he said.
School Board member Pam Carlson said she has had parents contact her and would like to speak up at the meetings, but are afraid to because their views are not the same as others. She said they feel intimidated and afraid, and therefore won’t talk at the meetings.
“The meetings have gotten out of control,” Carlson said, noting that after the December meeting, which was pretty heated, she heard someone say if people thought that meeting was bad they should wait until the next meeting. She was in favor of the no comment period for two months, saying, “We can’t have another meeting like last month.”
Another suggestion made by Anderson was to have those who wished to address the board put their thoughts in writing first and provide a copy to the board members. He said when people put their thoughts down on paper, it helps to clear things up. He also said each person would have three minutes to address the board and that the three minute rule would have to be respected.
In addition, persons addressing the board would know that they would receive a response from the board and administration within a couple of days.
Anderson wasn’t the only one with ideas. Most of the board members shared their views on how they could move forward with a more respectful public comment period.
School Board member Sandy Susag suggested that people could sign up and meet privately with administrators and a couple of board members instead of in a public setting or even a small group setting.
All the board members said it’s important to stay connected with the public and the public should have an opportunity to be heard, but they said the meetings can’t continue in the manner they have been in the last few months.
Krebs said it is a good idea to look at other school districts and see what they are doing. She even suggested doing some crowdsourcing to gather information and research.
Superintendent Rick Sansted said he would do the work and do the research to see what other schools are doing and will work with the board to come up with a solution. He said after last month’s meeting, the public expects the school district and board to do something different. He wants to find a solution to be able to give the public access, but in a more respectful manner.
The board approved the following other items:
All officers will remain the same for 2022 – Krebs is the chairperson, Dave Anderson is vice chairperson, Dean Anderson is clerk and Carlson is treasurer.
Salary increase of 2% for board members. They will now receive $3,782 per year instead of $3,708. The board chair still receives an additional $500.
School board members will receive $2,300 for training and in-service, which is the same as last year.
The Echo Press was designated as the official newspaper for the district’s legal publications and postings.