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Austin School Board Talks Opening Up Public Comment at Meetings

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Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT
Parents say the process to comment publicly at Austin School Board meetings is often arduous, and that members don't have an open dialogue with concerned parents.

Changes may be coming to how the community is invited to communicate with the Austin School Board. Some say the current process is too onerous on working parents, that board members and parents don’t have a direct line of communication and that the board should be more available to parents district-wide.

Right now, if you want to speak at a school board meeting, you have to sign up at district headquarters, the day of any school board meeting before the meeting begins. You get two minutes to speak, and the board doesn’t respond. They just listen. Vincent Tovar is a parent in East Austin and member of the Pride of the Eastside organization.

“It’s more than inconvenient for parents to have to go downtown, sign up to speak and then go downtown again to speak at potentially dinner time and bedtime for their kids, while fighting traffic,” Tovar said. “And, at the same time, [that’s] assuming they have cars.”

Last night, some board members brought up various issues and complaints with the current public comment process – calling it inefficient; saying parents don’t feel the board is listening; that there’s no place for dialogue between parents and the board; and that two minutes isn’t enough time to voice an opinion. 

“You went through this whole arduous process of just signing up and showing up,” Tovar added. “The last thing you should be worried about is wrapping it up.”

Plus, there are only 40 spots and people sign up on a first come, first served basis. There’s some concern that eliminates some voices from speaking on an issue.

Trustee Ann Teich suggested town halls throughout the year to create more dialogue between parents and the board:

“But that’s contingent on board members having the time to do that, being willing to do that and being consistent with it,” Teich said.

The board could try out some possible changes during a trial period in January, but some board members said any permanent changes should be made after the November school board elections.

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