The new Jefferson County Board of Education has already made significant strides towards transparency and making access to meetings easier for members of the community.
At the first meeting of the new school board, on November 12, Board President Ken Witt announced the Board will rotate meeting locations throughout the county for the next few months, giving parents and residents throughout Jefferson County an opportunity to access and engage meetings closer to their homes.
This approach aligns with requests made by several speakers during the November 12 meeting, including representatives of the Jefferson County Education Association, asking the new Board take the time to get to know the district.
The Board also expressed an interest in live-streaming meetings on the Internet so interested parents, teachers, and students can watch what goes on at the school board.
Most significant are several changes to the meeting agenda. The portion known as the “Superintendent’s consent agenda” is supposed to include routine and non-controversial items requiring a formal board action.
The previous Board’s Superintendent’s consent agenda required a majority vote to pull off any item for review, making it more difficult to have public discussion and transparency.
The new Board, in the spirit of furthering debate and transparency, consolidated these items into the normal Board consent agenda, again allowing any single board member to pull an item for public discussion.
“The removal of a special consent agenda, items on which could only have discussion if a majority vote was taken by the board, was a key indicator of our intent to ensure genuine transparency,” said Witt. “That is no guarantee that everyone will be happy with the results of any given vote, but the dialogue is genuinely sought.”
The new Board implemented a new public comment signup process in which community members now can sign up online in advance to speak. Previously this had to be done in person right before the meetings, making it more challenging for working parents, teachers, and residents to have their voices heard.
The new majority also reversed a recently imposed restriction, put in place by the previous Board, limiting who was allowed to speak in public comment.
Finally, the Board has also moved public comment on non-agenda items back to the beginning of Board meetings, allowing the public an earlier chance to make comments and express concerns regarding issues not on the agenda.
These easy and commonsense changes will promote transparency and access, and will create a broader conversation within the Jefferson County community.
Derec Shuler is a Jefferson County resident and parent.