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SK School Committee proposes bylaw changes

August 27, 2012

Kristen Stringfellow, superintendent of SK schools

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The South Kingstown School Committee is proposing significant changes to its bylaws, which were reviewed at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The changes will impact the meeting schedule, alter community involvement on subcommittees and solidify the “understanding” that “committee meetings are meetings held before the public but are not meetings with the public.”

The new bylaws reduce the commitment of the committee to meet twice a month to only once a month. The bylaws state that meetings will generally be held on the second Tuesday of every month, where as the 2008 bylaws stated that meetings would be held on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month.  

Committee Member Scott Mueller proposed a change to the bylaws governing subcommittees and community involvement. The current bylaw states, “Community members serving on subcommittees shall be appointed by the committee on the recommendation of the chair and serve until the committee’s next organizational meeting or until the committee declares the seat vacant, whichever comes first.”

Mueller suggested increasing the number of community members on each subcommittee.

“I’ve been impressed by the diligence with which community members have served on subcommittees,” Mueller said. “At some point we may want to consider adding community members to subcommittees to increase opportunities for involvement.”

Presently, the committee allows two community members to serve on every subcommittee. The chair appoints up to three school committee members to each subcommittee.

Maureen Cotter, chair of the school committee, disagreed.

“I think subcommittees were formed with a little bit of wisdom having more school committee members and less community members,” she said. “My recommendation is not to change that.”

Other school committee members sided with Mueller and school committee newcomer, Keith Vorhaben, recently appointed to fill the vacancy left by Dr. Anthony Mega’s departure, pointed out the value of subcommittees, as he was involved with them prior to his appointment.

“It’s kind of a minor league,” Vorhaben said of subcommittees. “It’s a safe place to figure out how you fit in and what you can do for the process. I found it invaluable but I don’t know if I would favor increasing the number of community members, but I would certainly entertain the thought.”

Committee Member Rick Angeli then suggested leaving the appointment of additional community members to subcommittees up to the chair of each subcommittee based on the work that subcommittee is embarking upon.

Liz Morris agreed with Angeli and Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow said the language of the bylaws would be revised to read, “It will be left up to the chair, based upon the subcommittee’s work, to add community members to a subcommittee in a circumstance where a particular expertise would be advantageous.”

Another substantial change is the permanent addition of the language that committee meetings are held “before the public but are not meetings with the public.” This language did not exist in the 2008 bylaws.

“The proposed changes, if enacted, would halt school committee members’ ability to interact with community members in a public meeting,” Jonathan Daly-LaBelle, Wakefield resident and school committee candidate in the upcoming election, wrote in his blog Tuesday.

Daly-LaBelle pointed to the superintendent’s and various school committee members’ pledges to “engage all stakeholders.” Specifically, Daly-LaBelle produced Committee Member Raissa Mosher’s campaign flyers from the 2010 election.

The flyers state, “Community participating encouraged, welcomed and respected.” And, “Raissa recognizes that community partnerships are a must for excellence in our schools.”

The updated bylaws read, “The purpose of community comments is to provide an opportunity for members of the public to make a statement…community comments is not a time to engage in a question and answer dialogue.”

Daly-LaBelle questions this. “What about questions, thoughts and seeking interaction?” he wrote in his blog. “Again, this doesn’t sound much like seeking community buy-in and involvement of all the stakeholders (parents/taxpayers).”

According to the updated by laws, individuals may address the committee once during a single meeting and for only three minutes total.

This is a change from the 2008 bylaws, which allowed community members to speak once per item and for three minutes per issue.

The new law limits public comment to one speaking period of three minutes.

One final concern regarding the bylaws came from Scott Mueller who suggested that the language regarding the school committee’s mission to “provide guidance and direction to accomplish the district’s goals and priorities through policy, planning and accountability” is to “gentle.”

“This is too warm and fuzzy,” Mueller said. He suggested that the language should read that the school committee “should be held accountable” or “is responsible for” those powers and duties outlined in its bylaws.

The school committee must also name a new clerk, as the South Kingstown Town Charter prevents the superintendent from acting as clerk, as Superintendent Stringfellow previously was.

Cotter suggested changing the title of the vice chair position to clerk/vice chair. This will make Raissa Mosher, who was appointed vice chair following the departure of Anthony Mega, the new clerk.

The bylaws have been under review since March when the accountability subcommittee proposed a bylaw review process to update the 2008 bylaws. The review process soon began and the accountability subcommittee revised the laws and the school committee later provided feedback. The bylaws were reviewed by an attorney last month and returned to the school committee for a first reading.

A second reading of the bylaws and a vote for approval will take place at the school committee’s September meeting, which may be moved to Sept. 4, a change from the previously scheduled Sept. 11 meeting, which poses a conflict with primary election day.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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