Public muzzled even further at school board meetings

As a taxpaying patron of Chase County Schools, you should be even more appalled by the most recent action to muzzle public input at school board meetings.

Last November, this paper alerted you to a new policy that severely curtails your opportunity to be a part of discussion or to ask questions during school board meetings.

Previously, patrons had been allowed to address the board and/or administration, or ask questions during discussion of specific agenda items. That is no longer allowed. 

Instead, the public is only allowed to address the board during a specific “public comment” period on the agenda. 

This is the only time the public gets to voice their input, regardless of how deep the item they want to address may appear in the agenda.

This newspaper strongly urged the board not to adopt this new policy. Unfortunately, that plea went unheeded and the board adopted it, along with a batch of other policy revisions, on a unanimous vote. 

When specific board members were asked why they were implementing such a policy, we were told the school board meeting is a public meeting for the school board; not a school board meeting for the public. 

Huh? 

Plus, we were told this is what other school boards do and this is what legal counsel recommended. (Could have figured on that one!)

Now, for the rest of the story . . .

If the new gag policy wasn’t enough to curtail or discourage your participation or input at school board meetings, they’ve taken it a step further. 

Now if you want to address the board, you must fill out a request  form listing your name and address, if you’re a resident of the district, if you are representing any organization and then, what agenda item or topic you would like to request. 

If the board views the topic “imperative” of action, it can then be deferred to the superintendent who will address the issue, but most likely outside of the board room setting. 

I am now of the opinion the public comment period is really nothing more than a sham to insulate the board and administration during the meeting.  

Why would I say this? Read on, because the following is taken right from the request form: 

"Note: it should not be the assumption of the board or the public that if an item is addressed in the Public Comment item of the agenda, that this item will be added to the next month’s agenda for discussion. It is rare that an issue addressed in the Public Comment item appears on or becomes an issue before the board.”

Shame on the school board for allowing this new effort to move forward and further stifle your input. What’s next? Let’s not forget we were reminded previously the board does not have to offer a public comment period at all. How’s that for open and transparent government? 

I get it. The board just hired a new superintendent. They need to show him and the public they’re unified behind him, in spite of whether they, as individual board members, agree or not with this policy, or any other action taken by the board for that matter. 

I do know for a fact not all board members were in agreement  with the new policy adopted in November. Their opposition was voiced in committee but never publicly at the meeting when they all voted unanimously in favor of this policy.

Seems board decisions are now made via administration and committee, then rubber stamped by the board with little or no discussion, leaving the public with little understanding of what’s going on. But that’s a topic for another day. 

I don’t blame Superintendent Klooz for wanting the new policy. It protects him and the board from having to deal with you, the patron, publicly during controversial issues that may arise during board meetings.

Regardless, it is never acceptable to shut the public out of the governing process and that’s what this policy, and the addition of the comment request form, does. 

Granted, we elected these board members but I doubt we ever dreamed they would take an action like this. 

As a member of the public, a voter and as a taxpaying patron of the district, it’s up to you to decide if you are content giving up your voice. 

If so, join the other sheep who have no idea this is but one step closer to their slaughter. 

If not, then you need to make sure each and every board member knows how you feel about this new policy. 

Obviously, I’ve made no secret about how I and this newspaper feel.  

Your school board needs to be held accountable for this action. 

The Imperial Republican

308-882-4453 (Phone)

308-882-5167 (Fax)

622 Broadway St

PO Box 727

Imperial, NE 69033