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OUSD trustee’s proposal for more public engagement opposed

9 11 OUSD

OUSD school board Zoom meeting Sept. 9. To watch the school board meeting, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y74uy0daV2s. The discussion on increasing public participation starts at the 4:16 time stamp.

 

Ojai Unified School District Board members discussed at their Sept. 9 meeting potentially changing the agenda process to include a draft agenda in advance of the full agenda package, as well as posting public comments in a public folder.

The discussion was brought up by Board Clerk Kevin Ruf, and received mixed responses from the rest of the board.
Ruf said: “I feel like there are times when we know certain items will be on the agenda. Certainly, we know they will be on the agenda after the agenda prep session. I would love to get them listed on the district website on that point so that the public would be able to see, at least iteratively, what the coming agenda looks like. 
“Two, now that we’re taking commentary through email, it just seems like a no-brainer that we could provide a means by which people could make their comments very easily. One thing I’ve seen at some other districts, by the way, is a button on the district website that says: ‘Send an email to the board.’ ”
Ruf suggested that the board and the public should be able to view public comments right after they are submitted, rather than waiting until the board meeting occurs the next week. 

 

“Historically we have pretty much only taken our comments live,” Ruf said. “But there’s no reason why that needs to go forward.… People should be able to submit a comment in an email form, regardless of whether we’re meeting live.”
Board President Shelly Griffen said: “There are times that we set the agenda and, for one reason or another, something changes and now we have publicly published the agenda, removed an agenda item for one reason or another, public comment comes in, but we can’t actually have public comment on an agenda item that is not there.”
Griffen said she was also concerned about adding staff time to the process and how it would work logistically.
Board member Michael Shanahan said: “I like the idea of making the comments available to the public. The idea of making it easier to send us emails I think is a worthy idea, anything that makes it easier for people to communicate with us. I do worry about an earlier agenda. I understand what you’re saying about a draft agenda and I don’t see a legal problem with that. My concern would be whether people would be confused between the draft and the final.”
He suggested a trial run of the draft agenda process.
OUSD Superintendent Tiffany Morse said that a draft agenda would create extra work for staff, and that the agenda changes significantly from the time it is set to when the final is published on a Friday prior to the regular board meetings held on Wednesdays. Morse said: “Usually when you get the agenda, we’re still unclear about lots of pieces of that, because we’re quite a bit in advance of the meeting. So it just changes significantly. So if the point is to be more informed, putting out something that’s not real … as it is, we don’t get a lot of public comment once we even put the agenda, aside from like a major issue.”
Griffen said she agreed with Morse that the agenda changes almost every month from the draft to the final.
One of the main reasons Ruf said he was proposing these changes to the agenda process was to encourage more public input. Shanahan said: “We’ve tried doing a lot of things to get people to pay attention to us. I’ll even try wearing a clown suit next year. But I’m not sure it’s working. The agenda is out there, our email addresses are available. Certainly, they could be made more available. I’m dubious as to whether or not that would generate more responses.”
Griffen said: “To me, it sounds like it’s more work without any benefit. I feel like we’re trying to fix a problem that this isn’t the solution to. I don’t see this bringing in more public comment or more interaction and we’re asking for more work.”
Ruf then proposed a short blurb about the upcoming agenda on the OUSD website, and sent out via email, rather than a full draft agenda.
Griffen said this could be difficult because it could leave out elements of the agenda that were seen as highlights to some, but not to others.
“I hear privately from people all the time, and I’m always like: ‘You’ve got to make these comments publicly,’ ” Ruf said. “I feel like this is the way to do that.”