Urbana School Board Alters Communication Policy
By Jeff Bossert
A controversial agreement over how Urbana School Board members discuss their stance on issues could be approved in two weeks.
The item urges them to use caution when talking with constituents on items before they’re presented at District 116 board meetings, and to stand behind board decisions.
If the change is approved October 2nd, it will include Board member Peggy Patten’s suggestion made Tuesday night that the public have information about agenda items beforehand. Any more changes will postpone the vote further.
That change wasn't enough for Urbana resident Esther Patt, who says she’d be insulted if a board member told her they’d withhold a position on an issue until the board met.
“I want that kind of interaction," she said. "And I think that is really the obligation of an elected official to let us know before a meeting what issues you are going to raise, and what your concerns are, and maybe be able to get some input from members of the public when you do.”
Patt says she doesn’t believe most board materials would require legal review before they can be posted online. Former District 116 board member Mark Netter says the policy prohibits direct communication, since some areas in the school district aren’t included in e-mail list-serves.
Board member Brenda Carter says even those are a problem, since many don’t have computer access.
“Even though everyone says ‘oh, just go to the library', if people are working two and three jobs just to survive – they’re not going to have time to go to the Urbana Free Library," she said. "Many people, if they did go there, by the time they figured out how to get on, they would probably be very frustrated if they had no computer knowledge.”
District 116 School Board President John Dimit admits a multimedia approach is required to get this material out.
But he and Superintendent Preston Williams say they may also consult district attorneys about what agenda items can be posted online.