The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board has created a new community engagement committee. Although the public can offer comment during regular board meetings, the new merged board has created the committee in recognition of the fact that how the HUUSD Board takes comments may be different than how the individual school boards have in the past.
“As a large board representing six communities and overseeing seven schools, we need to follow our meeting agendas in order to complete the business of overseeing district operations. It would be a disservice to our community to bypass or delay agenda items related to this business in order to address individual comments at board meetings. The community is usually not fully represented at board meetings and topics raised during public comment may not have been scheduled or warned. Therefore, other interested community members do not have the opportunity to be present. The board needs time to consider these issues and often chooses to warn them for future agendas,” said Rob Williams, an HUUSD Board member and co-chair of the communications group.
Agendas are publicly warned so that community members know what the board will be discussing. During board meetings, the public can get information and hear board members’ thoughts on issues. During the public comment section of each meeting, members of the public can offer comments. Generally, the board won’t respond at the time but will respond in writing if asked.
“When one, two, or 20 individuals speak to an issue, we take careful note. At the same time, we have a mandate from our voters to deliver on the promises of our Act 46 merger, including delivering high-quality education to all of our students, preK through 12, and spending tax dollars efficiently,” Williams added.
The HUUSD Board has discussed at length the topic of public comment at board meetings. Board members have stated that they recognize the need to balance this input with the opinions of constituents who are not at meetings, yet who also deserve to have their concerns and needs addressed. The Vermont School Boards Association advised the board that this is the recommended practice and one that most Vermont school boards currently follow.
Williams said that the full board and community engagement committee were still working on the mechanism of how public comment from the community engagement process will get brought back to the full board.
“Please know that while we may not discuss or debate your specific comments at our board meetings, we carefully consider them, just as we consider other voices in our community – whether we hear from them through emails, letters, phone calls or their votes. We are eager to engage more meaningfully on specific topics as the year progresses and, in the meantime, hope each of you will use board meetings, emails, chats in the grocery store and more to tell us what you value in our educational system,” said Williams.