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School Board eases public comment rule

The Depew School Board's new public participation policy loosens restrictions on residents who want to address the board at its meetings.

The new policy requires residents give a day's written notice to address the board on non-agenda items. Though seldom enforced until recently, the board since 1996 required five days notice.

"I was very concerned that five days was too long," said School Board President Steven A. Carmina.

He had announced at the board's Dec. 20 meeting that the board's policy would be rigidly enforced after he interrupted a prepared statement by a resident that he interpreted as an attack on Superintendent Robert F. DeFilippo. When the board met again Jan. 3, Carmina said the board would review its public participation policy and offer some updates.

On Tuesday, Carmina proposed to the board that the five-day notice period be reduced to two days. However, Board Member Diane M. Benczkowski balked at the idea and the board agreed that the public be required to submit questions to the board by 1 p.m. the day before the board meets.

"I thought that would be more reasonable and manageable for everybody involved, because it essentially gives the public a day-and-a-half," Carmina said last week.

"It also gives the district time to research and have a heads-up on what residents' concerns are," he added.

Benczkowski was the board's sole dissenting voice at Tuesday's meeting.

"I just didn't think it was in the best interests of the residents and the taxpayers that they would have to give notice to the board to air their thoughts, let alone that it be done in writing," she said. "I felt we were heading toward a dictatorship having to notify the board in advance."

Assistant Superintendent Thomas Schmidt said residents who wish to speak to the board regarding items on the agenda the nights meetings are held will not have to notify the board in advance.

The board also will allot 15 minutes at the beginning of its meetings for residents to comment on agenda items, and another 15 minutes near the end of the meetings for those who have submitted written requests to address the board. Each resident will be allotted up to three minutes to speak. The public comment periods can be expanded at the board's discretion, Schmidt said.


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