Scottsdale Schools to provide more opportunities for public comment

Community members often use the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board’s public comment portion to address the elected leaders. (file photo)

Public comment at Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board meetings will see a few changes for the coming school year.

During the Governing Board’s regular monthly meetings, members of the public have an opportunity to address the board for an allotted three minutes each.

The Governing Board unanimously approved a format change to the meeting’s public comment, placing one section of public comment for non-agenda and consent agenda items at the beginning of the meeting, after the superintendent’s comments.

Secondly, the board will also now open to the public for comments after each action and information item’s discussion, before a board vote takes place.

This decision came at the board’s Tuesday, July 25 meeting at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave. This was the Governing Board’s last meeting until August.

SUSD General Counsel Michelle Marshall presented the board with a revised agenda reflecting the changes ahead of the board’s vote. The board initially discussed the changes at its June 6 special meeting.

SUSD Superintendent Dr. John Kriekard said he got the idea from the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

He also pointed out this change would provide a set section for comments on matters the board can’t respond to since those items aren’t agendized while bringing closer comments on specific items to the respective discussion.

“What I heard was you wanted to hear from the public but in a more directive way on that agenda item and just on that agenda item as it comes up,” Dr. Kriekard said.

“In Paradise Valley, I’m told it doesn’t happen very often but it does sometimes and the people feel like they have a direct part of the discussion with the board on that item and it creates a better collaborative environment.”

Board President Patty Beckman said she hopes these changes will provide an easier opportunity for the public to comment regardless of their situation.

“I feel this is a nice compromise. Now if we have a parent that needs to come and speak specifically about their school, they can do so without waiting for hours, taking up their entire evening and paying a babysitter etc.,” Ms. Beckman said.

“Others may wish to speak about an action item being voted on. These individuals will now hear board discussion and proposed solutions about the item as it comes up. Then, will have an opportunity to weigh in before a board vote.”

The next steps on this is to make changes to the comment cards to better reflect the changes ahead of the Aug. 20 meeting.

As part of a separate item, Ms. Marshall presented a proposed change to the public comment policy, which included two wording tweaks. The board did not vote on these changes.

The first was changing the phrase “personal attacks are not acceptable,” to say “personal attacks are discouraged.” The second was the removal of language warning speakers of potential defamation lawsuits if their comments “convey an unjust, unfavorable impression.”

Ms. Marshall said these changes are to better align the district with the Arizona School Board Association policies.

“The reason for both of those changes is to avoid chilling the right to free speech,” she said.

The last change to this policy came in 2002, before anyone in Ms. Marshall’s office worked for the district, and Ms. Marshall said this was part of sweeping approval of the handbook, not as individual sections.

Ms. Marshall said her plan is to bring this change back to the board on the consent agenda of the Aug. 20 meeting.

Editor’s Note: Ms. Beckman’s quote has been updated.

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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