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Lancaster School Board considers allowing more public comments at meetings

Lancaster School Board meetings are tame this year, compared to what they were one short year ago.

The meetings took on a much more civil tone as the controversy over the changed Redskins nickname simmered down and district leaders trimmed the amount of time the public could comment during board meetings.

Now board member Kelly H. Depczynski wants the board to consider adding back a second public comment period during its meetings, like it once had, which would parallel the public speaking structure of Town Board meetings.

“Many people have asked me if we could bring back the community speaking forum at the beginning of the meetings,” said Depczynski, who along with board member Brenda Christopher opposed restrictions put in place nearly a year ago.

Depczynski, who most recently failed in her effort to get the district to offer a community update section to its board meetings, told the board Monday that it’s important to offer a public comment component at the beginning of board sessions, in addition to keeping the public comment period at the end.

Her latest idea got mixed reviews amongst the board but was not outright rejected. It is expected to face further board discussion.

Board member Michael Sage said he saw some merit to restoring public comment at the beginning of meetings, which was scrapped in 2013. “I do see some use to having the public forum before the action items,” Sage said.

But he also said he didn’t have an opinion whether “two would be helpful or hurtful.”

Board President Patrick Uhteg, who led the charge a year ago to restore civility and respect to a fractured board and contentious board meetings due to unrest over the district’s changed nickname, said the board will review Depczynski’s request. But he questioned whether two public comment periods are needed. He also noted apprehension over relaxing rules given the raucous climate of board meetings the last few years.

Last fall, residents had to register no later than 3 p.m. on board meeting days if they intended to speak and had to identify their topic. The board reserved the right to determine if topics were inappropriate for public discussion and refused to allow shouting and outburst and obscene language, which had occurred over the mascot issue.

The public is now allowed to speak at the end of the meetings and only for five minutes. Those changes came about in 2013 in the wake of public criticism of the district about how it handled Common Core testing at that time.

“I doubt I would vote for two public comment forums,” Uhteg said Monday, noting that policy changes face two reviews by the board before action is taken. “We revamped policy based on things going on at meetings ... It’s not like we just throw things on the agenda and then vote.”

“My philosophy is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Uhteg said.

Board veteran Marie MacKay said she would want to see any additional comment period restricted to agenda items.

Board member William Gallagher noted that often when there were two public comment periods, there would be a lot of redundancy from speakers.

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