School board to consider more time for public

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- The Newton County Board of Education is considering the addition of more public participation to its monthly meetings.

Currently, the school board sets aside time near the beginning of both its monthly work session and regular session meetings for the public to comment about items either on the agenda or not on the agenda.

According to board policy, up to 15 minutes of each meeting is designated for public participation. A maximum time of five minutes is allotted to a single individual or a single topic based on the number of requests. The board members are not required to address any questions and generally do not respond to individuals sharing their comments.

Now, school board member Eddie Johnson thinks the board should allow more time for public comments and questions at the end of each meeting in addition to the time at the beginning of each meeting.

"I believe we could make more friends that way," he said at the school board's last meeting.

School board Chair Almond Turner said the board would have to determine if it would be allowed by state school board policies to do such a thing and also if the board could create an effective procedure for it.

"I believe in being transparent and allowing them to share their views," he said. "I think there's a time and a way to address their concerns."

He added that the meetings are supposed to be those of the board and that public participation already is included on the agenda. He said it might be best instead to hold town hall-type meetings from time to time where the public could interact more with board members.

NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews said the added time for questions to the board at the end of the meetings could be "awkward" and unlike anything he'd ever seen. He warned that it could be a lot of "back and forth" between the board and the public.

The board agreed to look into the proposal and possibly discuss it at its next work session, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 12 at the Newton County BOE building at 2109 Newton Drive NE in Covington.

The city of Covington currently sets aside time at the beginning and the end of its bimonthly meetings for the public to address the City Council about issues not on the agenda; the council also sets aside time during the meeting to address citizens' concerns for items on the agenda. The Newton County Board of Commissioners allows for public participation at the end of its meetings.