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School Board may talk back more

December 06, 2000

School Board may talk back more



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


Making good on a campaign promise to improve communications with the public, three newly elected members of the Washington County Board of Education urged a review of the board's meeting policy Tuesday.

The School Board decided at a work session to ask its policy committee to review the meeting policy for a possible amendment that would provide for response to issues raised at meetings by the public.

The policy does not currently address the issue of public response, board member Doris Nipps said. In the past, board members have declined to offer a public response to comments and questions raised at meetings.

Newly elected members Edward Forrest, Roxanne Ober and Bernadette Wagner raised the issue during a work session following the swearing-in Tuesday. All three made improving communications with the public a key point in their campaigns.

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"We need to present to the public that we are a unified body and that we can respond to their concerns collectively," Wagner said. "I think that people want to feel that they are being heard."

Wagner was appointed vice president of the board Tuesday.

Nipps said the School Board has been accused of being "stone-faced" and unresponsive to members of the community at its meetings. At the same time, she said she was uncertain how to word a possible change to the policy.

Board President J. Herbert Hardin warned that if board members become too vocal with the public, arguments could develop, and the board could convey incorrect information.

"We have to be sure before we talk to the public that we have accurate and correct information," he said.

Board member Mary Wilfong said she thought anyone who addresses the School Board receives a written response a few days later. She also said sometimes merely saying "thank you for your comments" is an appropriate response, but agreed the board should try to be more accommodating to the public.

"I'll tell you, Mary, I've spoken before the board and have not gotten a response," Ober said.

"We need to communicate to the public in a timely fashion. ... We have to at least make an effort to put something in writing. We may not have all the answers, but we should take the time to acknowledge."

Wagner said she has also addressed the board and received no response. She said poor communication will discourage community members from bringing their concerns before the board.

"We're going to have parents say, 'Oh, forget it. What's the use of participating?'" she said.

Forrest said responding to concerns from the public is important "so that they know that we're hearing rather than just sitting there."

"People are trusting us with their children," Wagner said. "We need to improve our customer satisfaction rate."

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