The June 25 School Board meeting was one of the best I've ever seen—for at least three reasons.
The first is that School Board members actually talked through an issue in the public forum of a board meeting. So often, motions are made, seconded and passed after maybe a question or two from board members to staff or a brief explanation by School Board President Mark Grosso.
Thank goodness for Grosso, by the way, because his commentary is often the only information presented by the board during a meeting.
The big issue on June 25 was a kindergarten enrollment bubble at and Williamsburg elementary schools that requires a short-term as well as a long-term solution. Some great ideas and excellent conversation took the board away from its usual rubber stamp of the staff recommendation. Well done.
A second reason to applaud the board meeting was that we saw a very rare split vote. The board voted 4-3 to approve technology purchases for a pilot program at the high school. This might have been the first 4-3 split I've seen in the several months I've been covering the meetings rather than the City Council Committee of the Whole meeting, which takes place in the same time 7 p.m. Monday time slot.
Third, the public comment portions of the meeting—which take place first thing after the pledge of allegiance and then after the board action has been taken—was rich with wide and varying opinions. It wasn't just "the usual suspects," aka members of the Geneva TaxFACTS citizens group.
But as good as that meeting was, it has the potential to be so much better.
Here are some suggestions:
(1) Have more conversation from School Board members.
It's not necessary for every board member to say why he or she is voting in favor of or against every motion. But it should happen more often than it does. Without that, the votes have the appearance of being pre-ordained.
(2) After a motion is made and board members have spoken their minds, the floor should be opened to public comment—before a vote is taken.
That gives the members of the public a chance to feel as if they are being heard before a decision is made. As it stands, there is public comment before the topic comes up and public comment after the votes are cast.
I've seen council meetings in which public comment has affected the final decision. I've also seen cases in which the council votes against the prevailing sentiment in the room. But open meetings are "open" for a reason, and members of the public often have a greater respect for government when they have a chance to speak within the context of the pre-vote discussion.
(3) Pull more items off the consent agenda.
If there's an expenditure of more than $50,000, the item probably shouldn't be on the consent agenda—unless it's been discussed at length and in the open at a previous School Board meeting.
(3) Hold School Board meetings once a week.
If the board feels there's just not enough time for public comment, meet once a week instead of twice a month. A Committee of the Whole forum would allow more time for dialogue, as well as awards and presentations.
(4) Move School Board meetings to Tuesdays.
The Geneva City Council holds its meetings at 7 p.m. Mondays. Anyone who wants to attend both the School Board and City Council COW meetings has to decide between the two.
(5) Don't go into executive session after every board meeting—and when you do, say why.
It happens every meeting, with no exception that I've seen, so far. The board adjourns to executive session under a blanket statement for any and all action. The board should say whether it's discussing litigation, appointment or discipline of an employee or collective bargaining matters.
The board president also should say whether action is expected after the session.