USD 418 Board Votes 4-2 to Continue Practice of Preventing Public Comments at Meetings

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By Brian Meek/Special to the News-Ledger

The USD 418 board members held a regularly scheduled meeting via Zoom on Monday November 23, 2020 at 7pm. The meeting participants spent a substantial amount of time discussing the recent decision to transition to a full-remote learning model and the COVID-19 gating requirements and if the board should hear public comments during the meetings. Superintendent, Shiloh Vincent, presented the most recent data from the COVID-19 gating committee meeting.  Last week, the committee determined that the district should convert to a full remote learning model starting on Nov. 30. Additionally, the decision was made to cancel school on Nov. 23 and 24 to give the staff time to prepare for full remote instruction and to help prevent further spread between students prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. 

It became obvious very quickly that the school board members have some differing opinions on the matter. There was some discussion by Dale Patrick and Dr. Kim Janzen during the meeting regarding the decision and whether the board should be more involved in the gating committee or criteria. Ann Elliott and Bryan Kynaston provided strong pushback against this suggestion. 

“Different Boards have chosen different ways to make these decisions, I would argue that there is more than one way… In the beginning the gating committee was formed by the board, and would bring recommendations to the board and the board would vote… As a board member, If I am being asked why we are making this decision…I would actually still prefer, to be the person hearing recommendations but voicing opinions and making a vote.” noted Ms. Janzen. 

“I would agree with Kim,” Patrick added. 

Kynaston questioning  Janzen: “Of everything that has happened, what would you do different? Would you change any of the votes or decisions? If you wouldn’t have changed them why are we having this discussion?”

 “I would of” injected Patrick. 

“Its pretty easy to say stuff with water under the bridge, c’mon Dale” replied Kynaston. 

 Patrick continued: “When you are seeing children hanging out together in groups of 3 or 4 outside of school, are we really doing them a justice [staying home],“ Patrick said. “We have an obligation to keep out kids safe. What we have done so far has worked for a majority of our kids. We need to continue that.”

“Just because you disagree with a decision doesn’t mean that it was A. wrong or B. that we need continue discussing it,” said Elliott.

Patrick made a motion to require the Board of Education to review the gating criteria recommendation and vote on the suggested learning models in future board meetings.  Janzen seconded the motion. The vote failed 2-4. Patrick and Janzen voted yes. Berg, Elliott, Greer, and Kynaston voted no, Jeff Johnson was absent.

Later in the meeting the board discussed raising the salaries of “classified” personnel by $.35 per hour or 2.5% whichever is higher. Kynaston pushed back on the raises for the district’s lowest paid workers. “Some of these people have been around for a long time. You can’t compare admin to anything else, someone [admin] that went and got that masters or doctorate and bears a large responsibility is not a comparison. They shouldn’t get more than admin, two percent.”

 Elliot moved to approve classified and other salary at $.30 or two percent whatever is higher. Greer seconded the motion. The motion passed 4-1 to give a $0.35 or two percent raise to the “other/classified employees”, with  Patrick as the sole dissenter. The board followed this action by passing a two percent raise 5-1, for administrative personnel with little discussion, again  Patrick was the only dissenter. 

Shannon Wilson provided a report on a technology procurement plan. The plan includes 300 MacBooks, 60 Chromebooks, wireless microphone/headsets, and a variety of other needed gear. The source of funds for the technology hardware would come from federal SPARK money. The items are currently out for bid until November 30th. A special board meeting was set for Dec. 1t at 7:00am to choose a vendor and approve the purchase. 

Lastly, the board discussed the fact that public comment is no longer offered during board meetings other than through email. Patrick showed interest in allowing the public to talk again during board meetings. “I think it would be a very responsible thing to hear what the public has to say” said Patrick. 

Vincent replied: “The practice of everything we are doing falls under state statute. There are some boards that set time aside and some that don’t. I feel like this current practice supports the policies of the district.”

 “Is it difficult to have people join via zoom?” questioned Janzen. 

“Well, everything is new, I’m not sure how much more difficult it would be to do that” responded Vincent. 

 Ann Elliott and Bryan Kynaston strongly opposed returning to a public comment portion during board meetings. Elliott made a motion to continue to prevent public comment at USD 418 meetings. The motion was seconded by Kynaston. The board passed the motion 4-2.  Berg,  Elliott, Greer, and Kynaston all voted to prevent public comment at board meetings.

The next USD 418 Board of Education Meeting is scheduled for December 14th, 2020 at 6pm. The Board currently meets virtually. Board meetings can be viewed live on YouTube by clicking the link on the meeting agenda located on the school district website.