Last week’s School Board meeting: observations

I titled my last post “Important matters to be decided at Tuesday’s School Board meeting.

Having now attended the meeting, I’d have called it something different.

Yes, important decisions were reached. But as has been the case since November, comments by Board members Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter and by members of the public were the highlights of the meeting, which didn’t end until 11 PM.

The drama began about five minutes into the business meeting, before what’s usually a perfunctory approval of the Superintendent’s proposed changes to the agenda. Despite publication of New Public Comment Procedures For School Board Meetings stating that all comments from the public would be heard before the Board discussion of business agenda items, Donalds said that consensus on those procedures had not been reached. She wanted to bring the matter back for discussion. Lichter agreed.

Lichter, and later, members of the public, suggested the possibility of a(nother) lawsuit if the public wasn’t permitted to comment on each agenda item right before (or possibly even after) it was discussed by the Board, not just at the beginning of the meeting.

Ultimately, after a 20 minute debate on the matter, the changes sought by Donalds and Lichter were defeated by a 3–2 vote. The new public comment procedures will remain in place – at least for now.

Then came public comments. Some of the topics addressed to the Board were:

  • objection to a section in a U.S. History eighth grade text book,
  • opposition to an online assignment given to a student,
  • objection to a public compilation of speakers at School Board meetings,
  • a statement that the Morgan & Morgan law firm is setting up an Education practice area and “looking for opportunities,” presumably to sue School Boards or Districts on behalf of parents

In addition, several members of the public spoke in support of Board or District policies.

It wasn’t until about 8:15 PM, 3–1/4 hours after the meeting began, that the Board took up the important matters I outlined in my last post.

Here’s my take on what happened regarding those items; minutes won’t be available until next month:

  • Board Bylaws 0160 – Meetings: approved 3–2 (Donalds and Lichtor opposed)
  • Policy 2240 – Controversial Issues: approved unanimously
  • Policy 5830 – Student Fundraising: approved unanimously with non-substantive changes
  • Board Bylaws 1010 – Board-Superintendent Relationship – will come back for a first read with changes at the May meeting
  • Charter School Fees – approved 3–2 (Donalds and Lichter opposed). Donalds and Lichter did not recuse themselves; District counsel said there was no conflict of interest because neither benefited financially from her involvement with Mason Classical Academy. See Naples Daily News story “Collier School Board will continue collecting maximum fee from charters,” behind pay wall.

Thursday’s Naples Daily News editorial, behind pay wall, said “there was progress in the 3–2 split board’s interaction, even if its typical polarized votes didn’t change.” However, it commented on “board members talking over one another” and called out a particularly inappropriate comment by Kelly Lichter:

Lichter’s ending comments were directed at her supporters: “2016 is around the corner” and “it’s going to get fixed.” That apparent reference to the next election when two board seats are up is the type of public affront to other members that wasn’t in the spirit of the consultant’s guidance to board members to try to work together.

I’d say the Naples Daily News was being overly kind.

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