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Tupper school board tries to limit public comments at meetings

November 7, 2012
By JESSICA COLLIER - Staff Writer (jcollier@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

TUPPER LAKE - The Tupper Lake Central School District Board of Education doesn't want to take questions during the public comment period of its meetings.

Board President Dan Mansfield read a statement Monday night during the beginning of the public comment period, held at the beginning of every school board meeting.

According to the statement, the comment period is intended for the public to comment on educational programs and activities, and the general operation of the schools. It notes that there are specific meetings to get comments on topics like the budget and capital projects, implying that those topics shouldn't be addressed during the comment period.

"This portion of the agenda is not intended, nor will it be used as a 'press conference' for questions and answers," Mansfield read from the written statement. "The vehicle to answer questions by the public, parents, students, etc. is well known, and done as close to the source of a concern as possible."

If a question can't be answered by a staff member "close to the source of concern," it should then be addressed to the next-level supervisor, Mansfield said.

"Questions for the Board of Education are rarely unresolved prior to reaching the Board of Education," Mansfield said.

If people have questions for the board, they can submit them in writing through district Clerk Diane Dechene.

The statement also noted that comments specific to an individual student or employee won't be considered, since the board has to protect the privacy of those people. If there are concerns about students or employees, they should be directed to an administrator, Mansfield said.

Asked after the meeting why the board decided to make the statement, Mansfield said it's not written in the district's policies, so "we just wanted to remind the public what that's for."

He said it's "never really been an issue, we've never dealt with that at all."

It's not necessarily that they don't want to hear about specific topics, Mansfield said.

"We don't want to hear questions," Mansfield said. "We don't want a bunch of fired-out - like, here's a question, here's a question, what did you do here? - when there's an actual process, through going through the district clerk, to do that."

Only one person regularly comments during the public comment period of Tupper Lake school board meetings, and that's Trish Anrig. Anrig is a former employee of the district and failed in her bid for a seat on the school board last year. She often asks questions in her comments, and topics she regularly addresses are the district's recent capital project, budget issues and access to school board members.

Anrig attended Monday night's meeting but didn't make any comments after Mansfield's statement.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Anrig said she disagreed with the idea that comments on things like the budget should be kept to meetings specifically set aside to talk about the budget.

"I think that that's a censorship that is really uncalled for," Anrig said. "I think we're paying the bills; we have the right to know, whether it's at the capital budget time or any time. If a community member has a question about how their money is spent, they should be able to inquire."

She also disagreed with the concept that she and others shouldn't be allowed to ask questions in the public comment period.

"I think the comment period is the only time that the public actually gets to ask questions and that certainly, if the board is not asking the questions, we should have, as a community, the right to ask questions in a public, open forum so everyone can hear the responses," Anrig said.

She noted that the district's administration makes a big deal out of developing strong relationships between the home, school and community, giving a presentation on working collaboratively later in Monday's board meeting.

"Somehow they forgot, we are stakeholders in that collaboration," Anrig said. "That means a dialogue."

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Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or jcollier@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.

 
 

 

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