Heated discussion about the structure of the public comment portion of meetings commanded Monday’s Columbia School Board meeting. The board also approved a new school resource officer agreement that will take effect next month, which is when the current agreement expires.
“Your stakeholders do need to be heard, and any idea of curtailing (that) is truly a loss,” community member Carla Hurtado said.
Hurtado spoke in response to a report that Helen Wade, president of the board, intended to place a time limit on the public comment portion of each board meeting. This was listed on the agenda as “Statement by the Board of Education President” with no further information.
Those who spoke in opposition of the supposed changes to public comment had not yet heard from Wade herself. Many assumed the recommended changes were in response to last month’s five-hour meeting, where public comment surrounded issues of the district’s recording policy and use of seclusion and restraint.
“Your intolerance for sitting through long meetings does not constitute a need for limiting my ability to publicly voice my concerns as a parent, a taxpayer and a voter,” said Jacque Sample, a Columbia occupational therapist currently running to represent Missouri House District 44.
After public commenters continued to accuse the board of limiting its ability to discuss important issues, Wade clarified the actual changes she was asking to implement.
“We are planning to adopt a procedure that our state legislature uses for public comment to streamline (our) meetings so that all business items can receive appropriate attention,” Wade said.
The general public comment portion of each meeting takes place before discussion of new or unfinished business. This is a time for the public to comment on any agenda item or items not included on the agenda.
Wade clarified that the changes they are making only impact this general public comment section, not the public comment time allotted before each action item.
The board is not implementing any time restraint to this section of general public comment, Wade said. The board will still allow three minutes of speaking time to each interested community member. The change is the addition of a paper form, a type of comment used by the state legislature.
The district will keep its public comment portion of board meetings, district spokesperson Michelle Baumstark confirmed Tuesday. The paper form is the only addition.
The paper form can be filled out by attendees during the meeting and placed in a box for board members to read after.
“It’s one more way for you to communicate to the board but allow us to ensure that our meetings are somewhat more timely and organized and ensure that attention is given to each agenda item,” Wade said.
Wade acknowledged that certain items will cause larger reactions from the public, and the board is still expecting to hear about those kinds of items.
“We are not perfect,” board member Della Streaty-Wilhoit said. “And we are listening, learning and respecting your voice.”
School resource officer agreement
The board voted to pass a school resource officer agreement, which will begin when the current agreement expires Nov. 1. The new agreement, which expires June 30, 2020, will cost the district $206,837 and come out of the security services operating budget.
The agreement will cost about $20,000 more than the previous contract, Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said.
The school district will reimburse the city for 55% of salary and benefits for officers’ overtime work.
The agreement assigns one resource officer each to Hickman, Rock Bridge and Battle high schools. A fourth officer will also be assigned to “not more than two” middle schools, according to the agreement.
Under the 2019-20 agreement, school resource officers are required to participate in mental health coalition checklist reviews and periodically teach a ninth-grade advisory class to cover topics like school safety, substance abuse, decision-making and gang activities.
Board member Blake Willoughby abstained from voting due to the public’s concerns over the teaching and mental health coalition requirements.
“The concerns that were brought up about (school resource officers’) teaching made me think about my experience. I had a positive experience, but that does not mean it is everybody’s,” Willoughby said after the meeting.
Elisabeth Condon, who attended the meeting Monday, said the decision to vote on the agreement tonight was unfortunate because of the time constraints.
“Even though there were really valid and important concerns raised tonight, there was nothing the board could do about it because they were at the last minute,” Condon said.
The next regular session board meeting is scheduled for Nov. 11.
Supervising editor is Hannah Hoffmeister.Education reporter, fall 2019 Studying magazine journalism