Visitors to the Washougal School District’s school board meetings will soon have more chances to voice their opinions.
At their April 9 board meeting, the school district’s board of directors approved a policy that will create a second time slot for citizen comment during board meetings.
The public can now speak about action items on the agenda before the board votes on those items.
Washougal School District (WSD) Superintendent Mary Templeton said the board hoped the additional public comment time would encourage visitors to share their views.
“Traditionally, the comment period is at the beginning of the meeting, but often folks aren’t participating in that,” Templeton said. “We want to say, ‘If you want to talk about board action, the board would love to hear from you.’ The board is interested in hearing from folks in an authentic way. This is another way to get our stakeholders – parents, teachers, community members – authentically interacting with the board about making important decisions.”
The updated policy now states that, in addition to the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, the board will identify the agenda items that require or would benefit from opportunity for public comment and provide additional speaking opportunities as part of the meeting agenda before taking final action.
A period of up to 30 minutes will be allocated for this purpose, with each speaker allowed a maximum of three minutes. Groups that wish to talk to the directors about an agenda item will be encouraged to request and schedule such presentations in advance.
Board members praised the policy update at the April 9 meeting.
“Reading the policy for a second time and looking at the sample agenda that was attached to it, it really stood out to me that it provides an opportunity for people in the community to actually tell us what they think about the polices, whereas if you come in at the beginning of the meeting, you really don’t have that opportunity in the same way,” said board member Donna Sinclair. “I think it’s going to be a great change.”
Board chair Cory Chase echoed those thoughts, telling Templeton, “I know you’ve had a lot of conversations about this, and you’ve talked about the importance of having a fair and equitable process for conducting our meetings and receiving feedback from the public. This meets all of those (requirements) that we’ve discussed.”
Templeton and the board directors have been working on the update for several months.
“Right before I got here the board was looking to update that policy,” Templeton said. “WSSDA (the Washington State School Directors Association) put out something new around that time, and (our update) could be in response to that. When I came on board, I did some research, realized the policy had been updated again, and determined that the best way forward for us was to take the original policy and adjust it per WSSDA recommendations to make sure we allow for articulate feedback to action items.”
Board members aren’t allowed to respond to citizen comments during meetings, but Templeton has been making herself available for informal coffee chats at the district’s schools to address inquiries or concerns.
“Sometimes the board members want to go, ‘Yeah, but…'” Templeton said. “But it’s not their role to respond at that point. Sometimes people have questions I can provide answers to, and I can offer a chance to talk and have dialogue. Let’s talk in an authentic way, and I’ll tell you what I know. Sometimes it will be good and sometimes it won’t be good, but we can talk about it honestly.”
Templeton said the new policy will most likely take effect during the board’s May 7 meeting.