LAUSD Board Moves to Cut Public Speaking Time

We are looking at our Board rules soon to make sure that we can hear all voices. Time of meetings and all things I think are valid concerns.

- LAUSD Board Member Nick Melvoin

After working behind closed doors and without public input, Los Angeles Unified Schools District (LAUSD) Board member Nick Melvoin’s Rules “Committee” has submitted their recommended changes to the full Board of Education. While Melvoin had suggested that this committee was “a good look at” expanding access of Board meetings for parents, students, and teachers, the changes suggested do not address the “time of meetings...location...wait times…equity on sides of an issue,” or any of the other issues outlined in the “Board Meeting Accessibility to the Public” resolution that was presented to the Board last September. Instead, the committee proposes that the time allotted for each speaker be reduced from three to two minutes, a change that had not been asked for.

Melvoin had suggested in the past that following the Los Angeles City Council’s two-minute limit would help to shorten the length of meetings, but the same objective can be met by limiting the number of items on each agenda and increasing the number of meetings accordingly. Using this solution has the added benefit of keeping meetings more focused and reducing the amount of time that members of the public have to wait around for the subject for which they would like to provide input. While the LAUSD Board currently has one day of meetings per week, the City Council meets three times per week. Additionally, only one open, regular LAUSD meeting is held per month. The rest of the meetings are either in closed sessions or are labeled as “special meetings” and do not allow for general public comment.

Another proposed change to the rules limits stakeholders’ effectiveness in contributing to the dialogue about items before the Board. While Board members can currently “interrupt a speaker at any time to ask questions or make comments as frequently as necessary to clarify the discussion”, this ability would be taken away if the new rules are passed. The purpose of public comment is not to check off a requirement in California’s open meeting laws, but it is supposed to be a chance for public input. Eliminating this opportunity for interaction limits the ability for stakeholders to have a say in policies that affect the children of the district.

The proposed changes run counter to the purpose of the “Board Meeting Accessibility to the Public” resolution, which is supported by the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and stakeholders in the District. Instead of limiting the time that stakeholders can speak, the Board should be encouraging more participation. The Board not only needs to vote against the proposed changes, but Scott Schmerelson needs to follow through with his promise to formally introduce the Accessibility resolution so that the Board can vote on it.

At the March Committee of the Whole meeting, all three Board members who were present stated that accessibility to the public was an important issue. The District lists “parent and community engagement” as a core value. It is time to put those words into action and pass changes to the rules that actually promote engagement.

I agree with my colleges and appreciate Mr. Petersen [for] bringing this forward. As he said, it is something many of us, including me, have criticized in the past...My office will be happy to look at these changes as well.

- LAUSD Board Member Nick Melvoin