4/19/12 School board to host annual public forums

School board to host annual public forums
By Mike Wilder The Times-News 4/19/12     
Reprinted with permission.

   Members of the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education agreed this week to hold at least one forum a year to allow community members to share concerns and suggestions.

   During a work session Monday, board member Steve Van Pelt suggested the board delay action on a proposed policy relating to participation by the public in school board meetings.

   The policy, as drafted by board attorney Trey Allen, contains a provision that “at least once during each calendar year, the board shall hold a public hearing at which members of the public may address the board regarding any subject appropriate for open session.”

   That’s in addition to a time set apart at the board’s regular meetings to allow brief comments from people who want to speak.

   Allen said the wording that called for forums “at least once” a year was a “placeholder” to give board members somewhere to start in deciding how many to have.

   A previous work session that included discussion on interaction between the public and the board helped shape the wording of the proposed policy. That discussion followed an appeal from the Rev. Edward McDowell for the board to provide opportunities for members of the public to interact with board members.

   Van Pelt said McDowell had “spoken very eloquently,” but added the board could benefit from greater community input.

   He pointed out the school system, along with the Alamance County Economic Development Foundation and the Alamance County Area Chamber of Commerce, is about to launch a large-scale effort to get feedback from the community on the direction the school system should take in different areas. That will involve frequent meetings open to the public and could help the board find out what types of communication community members desire with the board, he said.

   “We have no idea what the rest of the community may or may not want,” Van Pelt said, noting some forums the system has held have been poorly attended.

   Rose said he couldn’t imagine anyone being opposed to having forums.

   “The more information we have from the public, the better,” Rose said.

   Board chairwoman Jackie Cole didn’t disagree, but also mentioned low attendance at some forums and suggested many prefer to communicate one-on-one with board members by phone or email. She and Van Pelt said the board could decide to have forums as frequently as people say they want them.

   Board members ultimately agreed to leave the requirement for at least one forum a year in the proposed policy, which will be discussed further before the board votes on whether or not to approve it.