homepage logo

Some criticize prevention of school board input

By Staff | Feb 26, 2009

Some citizens are questioning a motion by the Lee County School Board during Tuesday night’s meeting to strike board member comments from the agenda.
Board member comments had been shuffled around one other time before, in August 2005, when superintendent comments were switched to come before board members’ comments.
According to Board Member Jeanne Dozier, comments were axed this week to allow more time for school recognitions.
“Sometimes when we have a large agenda, we don’t honor them (students and teachers) with enough attention,” she said. “I didn’t want to rush through, and sometimes that is what we do.”
At the start of the action meeting at 6 p.m., the board recognized more than 100 students for musical accomplishments and staff for the Reading First program. Typical board recognitions last approximately 30 minutes, but Tuesday the board did not get down to business until after 7 p.m.
Board Member Robert Chilmonik, on the other hand, believes the comments section was voted out to prevent him from speaking.
“It was obvious they didn’t want me to talk about the two motions from today,” said Chilmonik. “Of course, I will bring it back at the next board meeting.”
During the board’s briefing meeting at 2:30 p.m., Chilmonik proposed his version of a “stimulus plan,” asking the board to take away school board salaries, end double dipping, cancel Browder’s severance package, eliminate salary reductions and conduct a management audit.
He also proposed a motion for a reallocation referendum, which he has supported since last year, that would give the superintendent flexibility to transfer money from the capital to operating account.
The rest of the board and Browder contend that the referendum would put the school district in danger of not being able to pay its debt services.
When discussing Gov. Charlie Crist’s proposed budget Tuesday, Browder said there will not be as much money in the district’s capital account.
“The capital dollars we received last year were different than this year, which could minimize our ability to do a transfer,” he said.
Although none of the board members supported Chilmonik’s motion Tuesday, he continues to introduce the same motion at each board meeting.
Other board members said they are exasperated by Chilmonik’s allegiance to what they consider a lost cause.
“It makes you look a little foolish. I don’t like to sit here with my colleague, who I respect, and look over all of this foolishness for political reasons,” said Board Member Elinor Scricca. “We have too much to do. Let’s stop it and get to work.”
John Traube, a Cape Coral resident and outspoken critic of the school board, said the board always desires to be unanimous and therefore prevents critics from speaking their mind.
“I couldn’t believe it (the school board) would prevent my representative living in District 1 from presenting his views during board member comments,” he said.
The comments portion of the agenda is the only time in which an individual member can introduce a new issue or speak on any subject throughout the school district.
According to board policy, “No business shall be conducted at any regular meeting which does not come within the purposes set forth in the agenda unless changed for good cause or addressed during board members’ comments.”
While no policy strictly prohibits excluding board member comments from the agenda, officials from the First Amendment Foundation said every board member should have the right to comment or participate.
“Everybody, regardless of board member or not, should have the right to comment or participate,” said Adria Harper, director of the foundation. “At some point they need to be able to comment.”