Signups for public comment at Albemarle County School Board meetings could look a little different in the future.
On Thursday, the board heard a proposal for a new policy that would make sign-ups online only, but members ultimately requested a policy that would allow people to sign up online and in person.
The changed policy will be brought before the board for approval again at a later meeting before a pilot of the additional online signups begins.
School Board Clerk Jennifer Johnston said the proposed changes were meant to help create more efficient meetings, adding that if there were many people signing up ahead of time, the chair could make adjustments to the agenda if necessary.
Board member Katrina Callsen said right away that she had several issues with the proposed changes.
“I don’t get why it’s necessary,” she said “I think it sends a message about what we actually want out of public comment, which is that we don’t want it.”
“I don’t get why we changed it, and, to be completely frank, I don’t buy that we’re doing it for meeting efficiency,” Callsen said.
She said she thinks that if the board really values public comment, the proposed changes don’t convey that and that she thought it was trying to put up a barrier.
Board member Jason Buyaki said he shared some of the same concerns, and he was also bothered by the proposed change to allow the board chair to unilaterally reduce the time speakers have. Currently, the board has to agree to the changes.
“It is our obligation, our duty as board members, to listen to the public,” he said. “They have three minutes, and I’ve advocated to ensure that they have three minutes.”
Board member David Oberg said the proposed changes eliminated the ability for the public to speak on thoughts they may have during the meeting if they didn’t sign up online ahead of time.
“There are times that community members have thoughtful, insightful things to say that they might not have had prepared ahead of time,” he said.
Board member Kate Acuff said they could open online sign-ups in addition to letting people sign up in person, which could give people more opportunity to speak.
Another change in the initial proposed public comment policy includes eliminating the ability for board members to ask public comment speakers for more information. It’s unclear if that elimination will remain in the updated policy changes.
Also at the meeting, board member Acuff moved to pull an item to add 55 parking spaces at Western Albemarle High School off the consent agenda.
The plan, which was first included on the consent agenda of the Aug. 8 meeting, would cost $400,000. Division staff have recommended using leftover funds from the 2016 bond referendum to complete the project. The school lost 32 parking spaces because of the construction of additional science labs.
The use of those leftover funds would be subject to the Board of Supervisors’ approval.
Acuff said was concerned about the county’s environmental goals and that this was too far out of the scope of the bond referendum projects.
Oberg said it wasn’t about where the students park, it was about where visitors and parents park when they come to the schools.
“It is far more damaging to the environment for the cars to pull up on the grass, and running through the mud and making holes than if you had appropriate parking spots,” he said.
Callsen agreed with Acuff and said the school division provides buses that students should take.
Ultimately, the motion to remove it from the Thursday consent agenda failed, with only Acuff and Callsen voting in favor of its removal. It will go to the Board of Supervisors.