2017-12-08 / Front Page

Changes coming to school policies

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

While members of the public will still be able to voice their comments about matters on Scarborough Board of Education business and workshop agendas, board members may be tweaking policy BEDH: Public Participation at Board Meetings.

According to the policy, which passed at first reading Nov. 30, “the board will ask members of the public for comments prior to board action on agenda items dealing with policy or the expenditure of funds.”

Items that a member of the public may want to address with board members that aren’t on the agenda “must be made in writing to the superintendent and must set forth the specifics of the subject to be addressed.” The superintendent will then decide whether to put those specific items on an agenda.

The policy states “the board will not entertain public comment about specific individuals. Such matters should be referred to the appropriate administrator” and “should not expect the board or the superintendent to answer questions during the comment period.”

The policy, if adopted, gives the board chairman the power to set a time frame for individual speakers and stop “any public comment” that are contrary to the policy. Speakers who are disruptive, it said, may be asked to leave the meeting.

Board of Education Chairman Donna Beeley said a year ago attorneys from Drummond Woodsum suggested Scarborough’s policy should be updated.

“Ours was really quite lengthy, probably an unmanageable length, so we decided to reduce it and came up with the policy you see before you tonight,” Beeley told her fellow board members, before the group unanimously approved the initial draft. A second reading and adoption is expected early in 2018.

The way the community hears about the budget may be altered for the fiscal 2019 budget review process. While the town manager and superintendent are still expected to jointly present the entire town budget in early April, which will be open for public debate between then and the school validation vote (typically held in June), finance committee chairman Jodi Shea said there has been talks about doing away with the budget forum.

For the past two years, school and municipal leaders have convened at Scarborough High School for a community forum on the budget, during which time residents have been able to ask questions about spending.

Shea said a better option may be to “go to the people rather than having them come to us.” That tactic, if adopted, would mirror the approach the public safety complex building committee took in getting information about the proposed public safety building out into the community. The committee held presentations about the proposal at all the neighborhood fire stations between September and October.

“We are trying to find a way to engage a wide group of citizens and answer their questions,” Shea said.

The board also took its first look at a tweaked cell phone use policy that maintains most of the existing policy language, but removes mention of MP3 and vibrate from the policy.

While board members seemed comfortable with it at first reading, Jackie Perry asked how the board and schools should be handling situations in which students may be waiting important communication from their families. Students are not allowed to use cellphones during class without permission, but can during lunch and in between classes as long as the ringer is silenced.

“If someone is having a baby or grandfather has an operation, students get anxious about that,” she said.

Superintendent Julie Kukenberger said the cellphone use policy has “lots of room for flexibility” for teachers and staff members to accommodate students in that position as long as they are made aware of it.

“I am willing to leave it alone if you think it is being handled appropriately,” Perry said to Kukenberger, who said she will being up Perry’s concern with school administrators before second reading, which is set for Jan. 4.

Kukenberger said she is concerned about another way cellphones are being used at the high school. Kukenberger said she began looking into the policy after hearing students were texting their parents when they didn’t feel well instead of going to the nurse’s office first.

“We feel our policy is working, but we are always monitoring it and trying to stay on top of it,” Kukenberger said.

Board member Cari Lyford said she was impressed with how technology, including cellphones, were being used and managed during a visit she took last week to the high school to see how classrooms were implementing proficiency-based education.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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