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Proposed policy draws opposition

School Board members would be polled before they could have an item put on the meeting agenda under a policy change to be voted on at Thursday’s virtual meeting.

The shift has piqued the opposition of at least two board members — Sherri Story and David Mitnick.

In an op-ed in Wednesday’s Suffolk News-Herald, Story and Mitnick wrote the proposed policy “takes away our rights and responsibilities, as duly elected school board members, to place items on a school board agenda for discussion, for information or for updates in order to govern responsibly as pursuant to our sworn oath.”

Current policy requires members to submit in writing requests for items to be placed on a meeting agenda at least 14 days in advance.

The new policy, as outlined by board attorney Wendell Waller during a May 7 Policy Review Committee meeting, would add the requirement that the board chairperson poll members before another member could get approval to have an item put on the agenda for an upcoming meeting.
If anyone objects, Waller said the matter would be added onto the agenda of the upcoming meeting, likely prior to the vote to approve the board’s meeting agenda and “there must be an affirmative vote,” Waller said, to have the item added.

If the board approves the request to add the item to the agenda, Waller said it could have preliminary discussions about it, or there could be a motion to add the item to the agenda of the next meeting.

Board chairwoman Phyllis Byrum and vice-chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck, who serve as the two members on the Policy Review Committee, said they do not have a problem with the proposed policy.

“I agree with this,” Brooks-Buck said at the committee meeting. “I think it gives board members an opportunity to take part in the discussion with regard to the agenda as well, because we have some board members who that have a list of things they want on the agenda, and I think that this way, it gives all the board members input with regard to … items that are placed on the agenda for discussion.”

Brooks-Buck asked Waller if Virginia code covered the polling of members to determine their position on putting items on the agenda.

Waller said it did, citing Virginia code 2.2-3710(B).

It says that there is nothing to “prohibit … separately contacting the membership, or any part thereof, of any public body for the purpose of ascertaining a member’s position with respect to the transaction of public business, whether such contact is done in person, by telephone or by electronic communication,” as long as it does not constitute a meeting.

Waller said that part of Virginia code comes out of the Freedom of Information Act.

Story and Mitnick, in their op-ed, said the executive director of the Virginia School Board Association told them at a February 2019 board development session that the association “made it clear that any school board member can have an item be placed on a school board meeting agenda,” which they noted was put into the board’s norms and protocols that were approved by the board in March 2019.

Both cited several items that they have tried to have added to meeting agendas that they said were turned aside.

Story and Mitnick said the video of the committee meeting “made it clear that the members of the Policy Review Committee along with the School Board Attorney are attempting to stifle requests from individual school board members by adding filters attempting to control the flow of information to the public.”

Thursday’s meeting begins at 6 p.m. with recognition of King’s Fork High School’s honor graduations, along with presentations for the citywide teacher of the year and rookie teacher of the year. The meeting will be livestreamed on the division’s YouTube page.

The complete meeting agenda can be found here: http://pesb.spsk12.net/public_agendaview.aspx?mtgId=466.