Public meetings should accommodate the public

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Should the Barnwell District 19 School Board (Blackville-Hilda Public Schools) change the time of their monthly meetings?

That’s the question the new superintendent is hoping the public will help answer by providing opinions.

In a recent letter to parents and community members, Superintendent Dr. Shawn Johnson said the district’s board is considering changing the meetings to the morning hours instead of 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month.

We understand from some board members that this is an idea that is being tossed around and hasn’t been formally discussed.

What they want is imput from the public they serve.

While we encourage parents, students and other community members to provide their feelings on the matter, we wanted to use this week’s editorial space to share our opinion.

The number one reason listed for the proposed time change is to encourage more public participation and involvement.

We applaud the administration for trying to increase public participation, which is usually slim to none; however, we believe moving the meetings to the morning will actually do the opposite of what district officials intend.

Holding morning meetings will conflict with the work schedules of many, if not most, parents. It does not help them to have to take a day off from work if they need to address the board or want to listen during a meeting.

We feel the public is best served when meetings are scheduled to accomodate their schedules.

Additionally, some board members might find it difficult to attend due to their own work schedules.

Dr. Johnson also suggests that moving the meetings to the morning will make it easier for district personnel and vendors to be there. It might be more convenient for some administrators, but morning meetings will completely hinder teachers and other school staff from attending meetings.

At a time when classroom time is so important, taking teachers out of that classroom for board meeting is counter-productive. It is common to see teachers at District 19 meetings, especially when they have great news to share, but that would end if meetings are held in the morning.

As far as vendors are concerned, if they want our business, their sales teams can either supply information during business hours or make the adjustments necessary to attend a meeting. They may ask for an earlier spot on the agenda if they have to travel a great distance. In these days of internet capabilities, they may even ask for a Skype or Facetime teleconference opportunity.

The final listed reason for considering the change is safety concerns of people coming and going at night.

This is a valid concern, but we still do not believe morning meetings are the answer.

We agree that the current time might be a little late for some people, especially those with children. That’s why meetings could be held a little earlier in the afternoon, such as one hour earlier at 6 p.m. This could be a better option for some folks. Even 6:30 p.m. might help.

Board meetings are frequently quite long, especially the periods of closed session which are often an hour or more in length. We believe there are ways to shorten the closed sessions. Having a crowd of people sit/stand in a hallway with only four chairs for over an hour is never accommodating. We ask the board to consider how they might achieve this.

We want to reiterate that this editorial is is only meant as our response to a question posed by the district. We think the intent behind the proposed change is sincere, but holding board meetings when the public is generally not available is not in anyone’s best interest.

We appreciate Dr. Johnson and the D19 Board for seeking the input of the public. Seeking advice and working together is always a good option.

If you have an opinion on this or other matters concerning Blackville-Hilda School District 19, please let Dr. Johnson or a board member know; or write a Letter to the Editor to share your thoughts with the Barnwell County community.