Portage school board eyes forms for meeting speakers

2013-01-19T19:45:00Z 2013-01-19T21:40:04Z Portage school board eyes forms for meeting speakersJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

PORTAGE | The Portage Township School Board will consider requiring people who want to speak at a public meeting to fill out a form prior to the meeting.

New board member Jessica Bailey said at the board's discussion meeting last week that the topic of public input forms was discussed at a recent countywide meeting and several other school district require such forms.

Bailey, along with member Debra Ekdahl and board President Cheryl Oprisko, said they favored the idea. The form, they said, would have the person's name, contact information and subject on which they wanted to speak.

They also discussed whether the forms would have to be turned in to the administration center some designated number of hours before the meeting, or if they could be filled out just prior to the meeting.

However, members Rhonda Nelson and Bill Fekete said they were not in favor of the idea.

"We've had this discussion before," said Nelson, adding it wasn't supported. "It allows no spontaneous speaking."

"The more restrictions you put on the public, the less participation there will be," said Fekete.

Resident Mike O'Hara spoke against the idea, saying he didn't feel it was right that he would have to provide more than his name and telephone number and that he felt the public should be able to talk at meetings.

The board now allows the public to speak at the end of a meeting. Those speaking must be either district employees or residents. They also are limited in the number of minutes they can address the board.

"It is an interesting concept, but it always stirs a lot of discussion," said Superintendent E. Ric Frataccia, adding it is important that meetings be managed.

Frataccia also suggested the board consider dedicating a specific agenda item to public participation. Usually members of the public wanting to speak must do so under the "other" agenda item.

Members agreed to forward the discussion to its Jan. 28 meeting at Portage High School West for further input.

In addition, the board will consider another policy addition regarding public participation at meetings.

Oprisko suggested the policy be expanded to prohibit those wanting to speak from speaking about personnel issues or particular individuals.

Frataccia said it has been his practice to stop speakers if they crossed that line, but added language prohibiting talking about individual personnel would protect both the board and the superintendent.

That proposed language also will be considered at the Jan. 28 meeting.

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