School board revises times for public comment

Both SUSD Board President Patty Beckman (left) and Board Member Barbara Perleberg, the previous board president, characterized recent changes to the schedule for public comment at board meetings as a good compromise that will allow some attendees to speak earlier during board meetings.

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board has modified the public comment process to allow some attendees to speak earlier during board meetings.

The new guidelines – unanimously approved by the board on June 25 – are a compromise of sorts that splits public comment into two sections.

The general public comment period and will take place following the superintendent’s comments – and before information and discussion items on the agenda. Then, individuals who wish to speak about agenda items will have the opportunity to speak as they come up before the board.

Under the old policy, all public comment took place after information and discussion items.

The previous policy, in which all public comment took place during the middle of the hours-long meetings, drew the ire of some members of the public.

That timing issue posed problems for parents who do not have the ability to stay at a board meeting for hours on a week night, current Board President Patty Beckman and Board Member Jann-Michael Greenburg told the Progress in December 2018. 

The information and discussion item portion of the meeting can take up a considerable amount of time, depending on a specific meeting’s agenda, and force parents and others to wait hours in some cases to speak to the board.

For instance, at the June 11 meeting, information and discussion presentations took an hour and 13 minutes.

Beckman and Greenburg both said moving public comment earlier during meetings was a key issue for them.

“Restoring public comment to the beginning of the agenda was an important issue for me,” Beckman said. “I truly value what our taxpayers and community members have to say and want to give them every opportunity to have their voices heard.”

The previous board voted in December 2017 to push back the time for public comment.

At the time, the board and former Superintendent Denise Birdwell said they often saw individuals comment on district issues early in meetings and leave before district faculty or staff had a chance to present information on the same issues.

“Board members for years had bemoaned the fact that public comment was right up there at the beginning and then when it came time for information, discussion, even decisions, the room was empty,” member Barbara Perleberg said at a board study session on June 6.

Despite what may have been good intentions, Beckman said the 2017 changes created a problem with some members of the public who viewed it as an attempt to “wait out” constituents who wanted to speak.

”In fact, some time ago I witnessed a community member walk out of a lengthy meeting and say aloud as she was leaving, ‘Okay, you win. I cannot stay any longer,’” Beckman said. “If we are to truly serve those that elect us, we need to listen and also respect for their time.”

Greenburg referenced similar complaints.

“I am happy that the Governing Board agreed to make this change as requested by our community,” Greenburg said. “I am happy that I have been able to achieve one of my campaign promises, and I believe that this is a step forward, however big or small, in rebuilding the community’s faith and trust in our District.”

Perleberg, who was board president at the time the rule was changed in 2017, said she sees the new public comment schedule adopted in June is a good compromise.

“I agree that it captures the intent of what past governing boards and what this current governing board is trying to do and that is a productive engagement with our community,” Perleberg said.