Public participation at board meetings
August 14, 2009
The laws governing boards of education require that their work be done where the public can observe their actions. The law does not require the board to allow the public to speak before the board nor participate in board meetings. However, boards of education typically desire community involvement in the decision-making process. The board should have a process in place to hear from the community in a way that does not obstruct the ability of the board to conduct necessary business. Hot topics and controversial issues should be heard at a separately scheduled listening session designed for community input, encouraging all sides to be heard fully.
The public’s involvement in board meetings can be limited to whatever the board feels is appropriate. OSBA suggests limiting discussion to a specific time on the agenda – possibly 15-30 minutes at the start of the meeting. It is also recommended that time limits be placed on each speaker; three minutes is the average. The key to making this work is being fair and consistent in the application of the time limit.
Most boards do not allow members of the public to speak during the regular part of the agenda. Your bylaws should spell out what is allowable for audience participation at your meetings. If an occasion arises where the topic is an explosive one, the board chair must use strong leadership skills to ensure that the meeting runs smoothly.
Remember that it is the board’s meeting and others should participate only with approval of the board.