Shorter board meetings needed

The Newton School Board should either meet twice a week when it sets its schedule next year or change its meeting format to shorten the length of the meetings.

It had a four-hour board meeting in February. It had a three-hour meeting last week. Such lengthy meetings serve as a deterrent for public participation and stymie discussion near the end of the meeting.

We saw that at the past two meetings. This week, Board Member Angela Becker attempted to have a discussion about the necessity of student fees, and the subject of moving the meeting forward and time came up as the meeting had already lasted for two hours.

Superintendent Deb Hamm graciously pushed back a discussion of board priorities for the district as meeting time approached the three-hour mark.

How the meetings are structured, new businesses is placed at the last half of the meeting. For a patron interested in hearing the business discussed or witnessing the action part of the meeting, that presents a difficulty. It is hard to gauge when such a topic will come up. And for most people, it’s hard to set aside a four-hour block of time to attend each board meeting. We’re a newspaper and are used to covering such things, but even for us, a four-hour meeting represents a considerable resource commitment, especially when the meeting is on topics that seem relatively mundane. It’s not like they were talking about closing a school or changing district boundaries at the last two meetings.

The Newton City Commission meetings and Newton County Commission meetings are usually much shorter than the school board meetings.

That’s likely because such bodies meet more than one time a month. The Newton School Board used to do this as well.

The board voted to add extra meetings in March, April and June at this week’s meeting. And it should probably consider a two-meeting format when it comes to its future schedule.

Another option would be to use work sessions, where board members can take no action but can view the various student and staff presentations which have been taking up a good amount of its meeting time.

A third option would simply be to remove some of the presentations all together, but we agree that it is nice to give district students the experience of showing off what they learn to the board and to the crowd present.

This isn’t a knock on the school district. At least it’s having its discussions at these long meetings and not in a coffee shop or private event.

But we look for ways to encourage conversation and public participation in all events, and shorter and more focused meetings, in our opinion, would help accomplish such goals.