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03-26-04 Board members: Streamlined meetings do not take away from public participation

By Janie Southard

Many area school boards have adopted the practice of consent agendas in an effort to streamline their monthly meetings. But have they also streamlined the public out of the discussion loop?
   In a word, no. At least that is not the purpose of the trimmed-down meeting agendas, school district officials say.
   Rob Delane, director of school board development for the Ohio School Boards Association, Columbus, told The Daily Standard he believes a consent agenda makes for a more efficient meeting without detracting from any public participation.
   “Consent agenda has been part of Roberts Rules of Order for a long time. It simply looks at routine and commonplace items in agendas and lumps them into a single action, rather than having the board deal with many (voting) actions,” Delane told The Daily Standard earlier this week.
   Delane said more and more Ohio schools are going to consent agendas to save meeting time for more important matters.
   “Boards are much more accountable now with all the required testing, goal setting and No Child Left Behind. There are just more important aspects of being a school board member than voting on routine matters,” Delane said.
   When Celina district’s board went to a consent agenda last month, board President Mary Lehman said the new arrangement would put more homework on board members and added “all information is available ahead of time for board members to pick up.”
   Typical items included in the consent agenda include the reports of the treasurer, business manager and superintendent. The superintendent’s report can include staff assignments, contractual status changes, personnel contract renewals, non-renewal of supplemental contracts, resignations, employment, leaves of absence and other issues.
   If a community member or board member has a concern about an item grouped together for a consent vote, he or she can ask the board to pull that item out of the listing for more discussion.
   In a telephone interview Thursday morning, Celina school board Vice President Matt Gilmore said he is a “fan of meeting economy” and pleased to finally get away from 20 or more roll call votes per meeting on routine matters. A roll call vote means every member is verbally polled and responds individually.
   The Coldwater school district does not use a consent agenda in its true form, although the meetings follow a somewhat modified version of the consent.
   District Treasurer Sherry Shaffer explained Coldwater’s board of education meeting is conducted in “different sections.”
   “Our resolutions come in two areas: the treasurer’s and the superintendent’s. All resolutions are listed separately and read separately, but there is only one vote,” Shaffer said.
   The point of conducting meetings as done by the Coldwater school board is to assure the public that “everything happens at the public meeting.”
   “It’s simply a time saving measure,” Gilmore said. “We’re not trying to duck issues or group things together for a quick vote. If anyone has questions about an issue, it will be moved to the regular agenda for discussion. Either way, the items will still appear in black and white on the agenda.”


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