School board approves changes to open forum policy

Published 9:47 pm Monday, October 4, 2021

The Albert Lea school board voted 7-0 Monday night to approve changes that allowed for more time to be allotted to the open forum portion of school board meetings. 

Under the new policy, the open forum will be increased to 30 minutes, up from 10 minutes in previous meetings. Each person who signs up to speak at the board meeting will receive two minutes of time. 

A sign-up sheet will be made available at 4 p.m. before each school board meeting when an open forum is on the agenda. In the circumstance that more than 15 people sign up to speak, members of the public will be chosen at random via an electronic randomizer before the start of the forum. 

Board member Jill Marin is the one who requested the public forum policy be on the action agenda because she said the guidelines in the previous policy were inadequate. 

“We want to practice open and accessible government which is navigable, and we must be approachable, even if it’s something we’ve heard before,” Marin said. “People have the right to be heard. Ten minutes a month is not enough. It must be more.”

Several options were discussed between the board. Board Chairman Dave Klatt mentioned that some other districts have their open forum at the end of the meeting. Board member Dennis Deiser raised some issues with putting the open forum at the end of the meeting. 

“A lot of times when individuals attend, they have concerns on something coming up, and that could be a disservice by doing it at the end of the meeting,” Dieser said. 

Board member Neal Skaar brought up the idea of having a separate meeting specifically designated for only open forum, which would allow for all members of the public to come and address the board. Board member Angie Hoffman and Dieser both expressed interest in the idea, but it was ultimately not added to the final motion. 

It was discussed whether the sign-up sheet should have a spot that asks what topic each person who signed up was planning to talk about. There was also discussion about having people sign up beforehand using an electronic form or by calling to have their name added to the list.

Marin expressed she would not be in favor of either of those options because she said the topic each speaker wants to address the board about should not matter and that having an online registration provides a way for people to get knowledge of discussion topics beforehand and possibly skew the amount of people at the forum. Neither the topic questions, nor the online registration were proposed in the final motion. However, it was mentioned that if the current way to sign up to speak (by a sign-up sheet when entering the meeting) doesn’t work well under the new guidelines, other options could be explored. 

Hoffman and Marin both expressed their support for there to be no limit on the number of people who were allowed to speak during the open forum. However, Marin ultimately suggested the total time limit be adjusted to at least 30 minutes. 

“I would like us to set aside a minimum of 30 minutes for open forum,” Marin said. “We know we’re probably not going to have anybody on a normal day, but when there are important issues to talk about, 30 minutes is a reasonable time to hear community input on whatever they want to talk to us about.” 

In other action, the board: 

  • Heard a budget update from executive director of finance and operations, Jennifer Walsh, which outlined potential cuts that would need to be made should the referendum questions fails at the polls in November. Those cuts included:
  • Reinstating student participation fees — $25,000
  • Reinstating student admission to athletic events — $15,000
  • Reinstating high school parking fees — $14,000
  • Canceling the computer network refresh — $73,600
  • Canceling the planned technology replacement — $137,000
  • Eliminate concurrent enrollment tuition (AP and CIS courses) — $27,850
  • Eliminate AP exams — $21,052
  • Eliminate gifted/talented coordinator — $65,000
  • Eliminate five resource specialists — $488,000
  • Eliminate middle school counselor — $71,500
  • Eliminate high school social worker — $79,800
  • Eliminate one director/coordinator — $139,000
  • Eliminate one dean — $104,360
  • Eliminate one administrator — $160,600
  • Eliminate 16 full-time teaching positions — $1,040,000

Walsh said these cuts were not set in stone, but only an example of what cuts might look like should the vote fail. 

Jeff Halverson, associate principal at the high school, presented the board with specific numbers about how many students participated in concurrent enrollment opportunities. According to Halverson, more than half of 2019, 2020 and 2021’s graduation classes were enrolled in some form of concurrent enrollment classes. 

Activities Director Paul Durbahn said 787 student passes were issued at the most recent football game, and eliminating free student and staff admission would cut those numbers drastically. He also said the free and reduced registration fee policy was used by over half of currently registered athletes. 

  • Heard an energy report from district energy manager Steve Lund. Lund said the district’s energy program has saved over $5.4 million since starting in 2004 and that the 2020-21 total utilities cost was $707,469. 
  • Approved a resolution 7-0  that appointed election judges for the Nov. 2 special election.

About Tyler Julson

Tyler Julson covers sports for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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