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Quaker Valley weighs changes to public comment at meetings

| Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 6:27 p.m.

Quaker Valley school board members could consider limiting the amount of time members of the public can speak at meetings.

Part of a draft policy board members earlier discussed this month includes limiting an individual to five minutes.

“You can say volumes in five minutes,” board member Gianni Floro said.

There is no written time limit in the board's current policy, which last was adopted in 1996, spokeswoman Tina Vojtko said.

Superintendent Joseph Clapper said it is important to at least consider updating the board's policy.

“Given the fact we've had more attendance during the last year or so than normal, and some of it was a little bit fractious — I'll put it that way, I thought it was a good time to look at this policy,” he said. “We need to really do an analysis of the way we do business here.

“It's a vital thing to make sure everyone has a clear understanding about our own participation, but also the participation of the public. Certainly, we're not opposed to participation of the public, but it should be always appropriate and hopefully meaningful.”

Quaker Valley's current policy asks speakers to share their comments “briefly.”

Speakers at Moon Area school board meetings are limited to five minutes, according to the district's board policy last updated in 2000.

Moon Area's policy also limits 30 minutes per agenda item and 30 minutes for non-agenda items, according to the board's policies on the district website.

According to a policy listed for the North Hills School District, speakers are not limited by a specific amount of time, but the board president can ask the speaker to end if the discussion has become “too lengthy.” North Hills' policy last was updated in 2012.

The policy also states that North Hills board members can “limit the amount of time allotted for public discussion of any particular speaker(s) and/or issue(s), in the interest of preserving an orderly and effective public meeting.”

Quaker Valley board President Sarah Heres said she agreed with considering the policy for revision, but added that public comment portions of board meetings over the past several years have gone well.

Board member Jeffrey Watters said district leaders also should consider how the board will follow any policy revisions members approve.

“Whatever we decide to do, we need to be prepared to adhere to it and enforce it, but also communicate it publicly with the acknowledgement that we're trying to strike a balance between getting the work of the school district done, but allowing for public engagement in the process,” he said.

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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