By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Public Schools General Counsel Julie Lewis wants to know what the community has to say about proposed changes to the board of education's public-participation policy.
The school board is considering changing the policy for the second time in six months, and Lewis is asking Clayton residents to contact her between now and the Dec. 8 school board meeting with any suggestions for changes.
"It's the public-participation sessions, it's their time to address the board," said Lewis. "We want to know how they want the policy that deals with their time to be written."
The sessions were moved to a separate meeting at the beginning of the summer, so residents would have more time to address board members. The change came a few months after 50 people showed up at a business meeting to vent their frustrations at the board over the district's accreditation woes.
The only problem is that the separate public participation meetings rarely drew more than five speakers at a time, so the meetings were usually finished in 15 minutes or less. The school system is now considering moving the input sessions back into business meetings.
"We want to hear from the public, either through public-participation sessions, or through e-mail," said Lewis. "We're trying to reach out to them. While we do appreciate hearing from the people, who do participate [in the public-participation meetings], it's the generally the same people every time."
Lewis said she has only received feedback from two people about the proposed changes. One person was OK with the policy as it stands, but the other person recommended eliminating a rule that people had to call hours before the meeting began to sign up to speak, and moving public participation back into the business meetings.
"He said he didn't even understand why we had a separate public-participation meeting," said Lewis. "He thought we were just playing games with the public."
Another recommendation, this time from school board Vice chairperson Jessie Goree, is to set a time frame for responding to comments and concerns from the public. Before she was elected to the board in August, Goree was a regular participant in public-participation sessions.
"In all the times I addressed the board, I only remember one time when I heard back from anyone," said Goree at the business meeting on Monday. "It would look good if the stakeholders were coming to us with their concerns, and we were responding in a timely fashion."
Lewis said she would draft an administrative rule outlining how the revised policy was to be implemented, but only after she heard the input from the community. She said it was possible some people were refusing to participate in the public input sessions because they did not think anyone from the school board, or the district, would respond to their concerns.
The general counsel said the school system is not yet leaning either way on when public participation should be conducted, but she personally feels it should be moved back to the business meetings. "Frankly, it makes more sense to incorporate it into the business meetings, because you can ensure you will have a quorum for the meetings," said Lewis.
The proposed changes to the policy, labeled BCBI, are located on the front page of the school system's web site, www.clayton.k12.ga.us, for public inspection. Lewis can be contacted by calling the district's central office at (770) 473-2700, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.