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School board meetings shorter, no sweeter

By Staff | Dec 20, 2008

Biweekly meetings of the Lee County School Board have grown shorter over the last three months, according to official meeting minutes. Those formerly lasting two hours or more are now completed in half that time.
In the 2004-2005 school year, for example, many of the meetings lasted from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 or 9 p.m. On the other hand, since October 2008 many of the meetings with the same school board have convened in one hour or less.
While it appears that average meeting times are decreasing, it’s certainly not because the district has less to discuss. This year they’ve dealt with a $29 million budget shortfall, another $20 million refund demanded by the state because of low enrollment and rounds of layoffs totaling approximately 200 people.
Yet even with the financial crisis, meetings in October and November of this year concluded in 50 minutes, while at the same time in 2004 they went two hours on average.
Meetings of the Cape Coral City Council and Lee County Commission last approximately four hours.
Chairman Jane Kuckel, who received the seat from Jeanne Dozier on Nov. 17, said that times vary at different times of the year.
“As we get closer to the holiday season there are fewer things on the agenda,” said Kuckel. “Sometimes they are short and sometimes they are longer.”
The school board typically spends up to 45 minutes on recognitions, she said, but with less recognitions — a time to present awards and certificates to district staff — the meeting time is being slashed in half.
“If there aren’t many recognitions you can get your business done,” said Kuckel. “As we get closer to holiday time there are fewer items on the agenda.”
The continually dissenting voice, Board Member Robert Chilmonik, insists that issues are being pushed through action meetings without significant debate, and that’s the reason for shorter meetings.
One item of discussion during the school board’s Nov. 7 organizational meeting was changing policy to forbid board members from discussing anything except for general areas of involvement or brief issues.
“One of the reasons there are shorter meetings is because there are less questions coming before the board,” he said. “There are very few questions coming up for any topic.”
Chilmonik explained that he is in favor of debate, but doesn’t support holding up the meeting for hours without a valid reason.
“We are paid $54,000 a year and if it takes six hours to do a meeting then it takes six hours,” he said.
The board does hold two-hour briefing meetings which include reports from staff about what is happening throughout the county, but those aren’t designed like a board workshop.
Furthermore, over the last four months not all board members have attended each of the scheduled meetings.
Out of those meetings labeled “special, workshop or legislative” not all the members have been present. On Oct. 7 two members, Board Members Jane Kuckel and Elinor Scricca were absent from the special and action meeting.
Scricca was also absent for special meetings on Sept. 9 and Nov. 18, while Board Member Jeanne Dozier was absent on Oct. 21.
During the last meeting of this year on Dec. 9, Scricca had to attend the meeting via speakerphone because of an emergency surgery.