A recent change made by Gilbert Public Schools to reduce the amount of time granted for public input at governing board meetings has created an uproar among at least 500 parents and community members.
The district enacted a new rule to limit the amount of time for a meeting’s call to the public session to 30 minutes throughout the meeting. The decision upset several members of the community, who wrote a letter addressed to the board and Interim Superintendent Jim Rice and protested in front of the district office prior to the April 22 meeting.
The letter, written by parent Shannon Dougherty, alleges the new rules are “unnecessary” and “penalize community participation.” The letter, which came with a list of 521 signatures of people in opposition to the change, claims the new policy will let board members, “select their speakers of choice and could lead to acts of discrimination” and severs, “the only means of effective communication our community has with majority members of the board.”
“We know what we have is amazing, we love what we have. But they are destroying it every other week at a board meeting,” parent Angie Draper told ABC15.com at the April 22 meeting.
Other phrases used in the letter and by community members in a supporting document include “unprecedented and unnecessary,” “disappointing” and “is impeding on our right to free speech.”
The last point isn’t necessarily true: Arizona Revised Statute 38-431.01 states public entities like governing boards “may make an open call to the public during a public meeting, subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.” Gilbert Public Schools open meeting policy has similar language that allows for public comment at a meeting that is “subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.”
Attempts to reach Rice for comment were unsuccessful prior to press time, although he told ABC15.com a motivation is to reduce the length of board meetings he said have been excessive in the past.
“Board members don’t have to allow any time for the public to speak,” he added.
The issue adds to the series of problems that have hit Gilbert Public Schools in recent months. Since the 2013-14 fiscal year began, the district has had three superintendents — Dave Allison, Jack Keegan and Rice — serve in that role and have hired a fourth, Christina Kishimoto, to begin her tenure this July. Her hiring came amid criticism from residents about the inclusion of attorney Dwayne Farnsworth as a finalist for the position. Farnsworth, who is the cousin of state legislator Eddie Farnsworth, was chastised for his lack of experience in education — he said he has served as a college adjunct and substitute Spanish teacher, but has no experience as a school administrator — and relationship with board member Daryl Colvin. Colvin described Farnsworth as a friend in a Facebook post, although Farnsworth played down the connection by saying he didn’t consider Colvin to be a “long-lost friend.”
Accompanying the turmoil in the district’s superintendents is the resignation of all four assistant superintendents and more than 80 people who will resign or retire at the end of the school year.
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