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Community input is too important for School Board to look for ways to cut it off

Buffalo School Board members have to tread lightly before supporting a resolution urging the superintendent to come up with procedures limiting the ability of parents, teachers and community members to speak at board meetings.

There should not be even a hint of seeking to cut off public input. For now, we’ll take the members at their word that the intention is to find efficiencies in the way meetings are conducted that would allow the public time to express its concerns while enabling the board to get its work done.

The resolution submitted by board member Larry Quinn and co-sponsored by Patricia A. Pierce, Jason M. McCarthy and Carl P. Paladino caused quite a ruckus among parents.

While meetings do run quite long, sometimes many hours, the elected board should understand that allowing the public an opportunity to speak comes along with the territory.

Currently the board allows up to 30 public speakers to address the board during regular meetings for up to 3 minutes each. At many meetings, an hour passes before the board begins reviewing its regular agenda items.

That hour doesn’t sit too well with some of the nine members. The resolution stated, “The public speaking portion of our meetings, which includes many of the same speakers week after week, consumed almost 40 percent of our meeting time last year; and … Board of Education meetings should be reserved for conducting the actual business of the board.”

Come again? Hearing from constituents is part of the actual business of the board.

Neither Quinn nor the others should be surprised by a less than enthusiastic reaction from parents, who carefully explained that they do not attend board meetings to waste time, theirs or the board’s.

Resident Keith Jones put it best: “The reason parents might be coming here saying the same thing is because you all keep doing the same thing.” In part, “sabotaging our kids, ignoring people when they talk, cutting staff in buildings with overcrowded classrooms, but when a parent comes here to say something about it, then the hell with you all.”

It is a well-expressed criticism that needs to be addressed.

McCarthy, who recommended that the resolution be referred to his Executive Affairs Committee for discussion and perhaps tweaking, made it known that neither he nor Quinn has any intention of eliminating public speaking at board meetings. They’re simply looking to structure the process more efficiently.

There’s nothing wrong with that goal, as long as it does not silence the public.