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School board approves spending, listens to public comments

IOWA CITY– The Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) Board of Directors approved the third reading of Appendix 9 to their Capital Projects Planning and Approval Process at their Feb. 11 meeting, where feedback was acted upon and new feedback was received.
“We have begun the transformation of the district and we need a process that works well for us,” said board member Chris Lynch.
At the Jan. 28 board meeting, Director Tuyet Dorau requested modification of Appendix 9 language. After a brief discussion, the appendix was referred back to the district’s policy and engagement committee to word smith the proposed changes.
“Very well done. It does capture a lot of what we have been trying to do,” said Dorau. “However, I would like to offer an edit. There are sections where it says directors ‘will’ do something. So instead of using the word ‘will’ I would hope we would use the word ‘may.’”
But not all instances of “will” are created equal, reported director Brian Kirchling. “There were nine instances of the word ‘will’ and not all of them were precisely in question. We try to look at each instance individually,” he said, referring to the committee’s process. The committee had revised the document prior to the Feb. 11 meeting.
“Thank you for your work,” responded Dorau, accepting the revisions.
All board members voted for approval of Appendix 9, with Patti Fields absent.
If the third reading of the process for spending more than a quarter billion dollars of taxpayer money lacked controversy, the first reading of guidelines for public participation at board meetings did not.
The school board established a public comment policy in 2009, noted Kirschling, to ensure people a chance to speak during community comments for items not covered in the agenda, and on specific agenda items. The policy also provides general guidelines for public comments. The new guidance, intended to supplement existing board policy, represents a blueprint for exactly how the board would allow public comments at their meetings.
“Essentially, these guidelines are more or less in accordance with our board policies... and are very much in accordance with our anti-bullying policy,” said Kirschling, presenting the guidelines to the board for consideration.
“My input would be, as a board, we should focus on the outcome objective, the environment we are looking for, the culture we are looking for,” said Lynch, “and if people want to come out and disagree, or if there’s conflict, or say what they want to say, as long as you do it in a safe, civil atmosphere, and a positive, educational environment, that’s fine by me.”
“Public debate on the issues should be uninhibited, robust, wide open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic and sometimes may include unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials,” said audience member Phil Hemingway of Iowa City, offering the first of 10 public comments on the proposed guidelines.
“What a remarkable conversation has just happened,” said Annie Tucker of Iowa City. “People are being really thoughtful about this issue. They’re getting a chance to broaden their conversation. Getting some new ideas and perspectives. It seems so important.”
“It is true that you did run for office to represent us,” Tucker continued. “You have access to information we don’t, surely. But you’ll make far better decisions if you... hear how things live out in the community.”
For example, offered resident Royceann Porter, the public had things to say about the board’s decision on holding school on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. “If we had not spoken out last month, nothing would have been done,” said Porter. She thanked the board, concluding the official segment for public comments.
However, when board president Sally Hoelscher queried the board members for comments, one member of the audience attempted to disrupt the meeting while Director Jeff McGinness was speaking.
“Yes, (the policy) is partly directed toward you, “said McGinness, addressing the individual by name. “Because you sit out there and take pot shots at us.”
The individual rose and approached the microphone to speak, but Hoelscher declined to acknowledge her. After subsequent interruptions, Hoelscher threatened to recess the meeting if they continued. The 45-minute agenda item concluded without further incident.
In other business, the board approved the district’s 2014-2015 calendar. Superintendent Murley noted the school year had been expanded to accommodate a day off to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. This was in response to community criticism of its omission earlier this year. MidAmerican Energy Company presented a rebate check to President Hoelscher and Superintendent Murley in the amount of $57,565. The board also approved the quarterly financial report, a request for asbestos removal costs, and the next step of design development for Twain Elementary school. The meeting concluded with committee reports.
The next ICCSD Board of Directors meeting is scheduled on Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. with the operations committee meeting immediately following. The policy and engagement committee will meet March 4 at 5:15 p.m. and the education committee on March 4 at 6:30 p.m.