Facebook Twitter

AGENCY SHOULD MAKE MEETINGS MORE ACCESSIBLE, MEMBER SAYS

SHARE AGENCY SHOULD MAKE MEETINGS MORE ACCESSIBLE, MEMBER SAYS

The Salt Lake City School Board is shutting people out of its meetings and should change things by offering free child care for people who want to address the board, rotating meeting times and places and generally making it easier for the public to get to a meeting and speak up.

That's the proposal by school board member John Florez who said he's worried about how few parents and other district patrons attend board meetings - possibly because they can't afford baby sitters, or they lack transportation or feel the board won't listen anyway."I have been concerned about the lack of involvement and participation of our citizens at our regular board meetings," Florez said.

Florez has asked the board in a memo to consider making changes since he thinks the formal evening meetings and general meeting structure may be freezing people out - especially those who work night shifts in blue-collar jobs, low-income people, single parents, mi

norities and others who don't work a nine-to-five day.

"Times and social conditions have changed," Florez said. "We have to rethink how we're going to get greater parental and citizen involvement."

He wants meetings held more often in local neighborhoods so people who traditionally haven't been involved in the political process will feel less intimidated about approaching the school board.

"If you meet people in their neighborhoods, they're more likely to come than to some big downtown thing," he said.

Florez said he has been talking about this for some time with patrons and most recently with the West High Community Council.

During these discussions, Florez said people cited these reasons for not attending school board meetings: The meetings start too late and last too long; there is little opportunity for dialogue with the board; some people can't attend evening meetings; and child care and transportation often are problems.

Florez is recommending that the board:

- Vary its meeting times and places. Some meetings could be held at noon or in the afternoon, others in the evening. There would be little inconvenience as long as there was adequate advance notice.

- Provide on-site child care.

- Allow more time and flexibility for public comments and permit more interaction with the board.

Currently, the board schedules a public comment segment near the beginning of every meeting. Speakers are asked to call the district office in advance to get listed on the board's agenda and are allowed to speak for three minutes. Several people requesting time to talk about the same subject are asked to pick a spokesperson to talk for a five-minute period.

Individuals who aren't on the agenda are allowed to speak during the public comment section, and the board does take its meetings to local school buildings from time to time. But Florez thinks the general structure is too formal and not flexible enough.