Too much talk: CMS board chair says it’s time to scale back on public comments

Jessica Miller speaks about student assignment during an April school board meeting.
Jessica Miller speaks about student assignment during an April school board meeting.

The long parade of public comments that opens many Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board meetings may come to an end next year.

At the first meeting of each month, the board lets an unlimited number of people speak for up to three minutes on any topic. That can lead to more than an hour’s worth of comments – and the heaviest turnout for speakers often coincides with complex, controversial topics on the agenda.

Student assignment changes, for instance, have drawn long lists of speakers.

In August, after Superintendent Ann Clark announced new anti-bullying regulations related to transgender students, a crowd of protesters from around the state signed up to speak, even though there was no board vote scheduled on that matter.

Sometimes the chamber empties soon after the public comments end.

“Our business of our board is getting lost because there’s nobody watching us when we’re doing our business,” board Chair Mary McCray said last week. “There’s nobody watching on television.”

On Thursday, board members got a packet of information on speaker policies from other school districts and local governments. Charlotte City Council, Mecklenburg County commissioners and school boards in Wake, Union, Gaston and Lincoln counties block off 30 minutes at the start of meetings for public comments.

In Wake, people speaking about items on the agenda get first priority. People who don’t make it in the 30-minute slot may be recognized at the end of the meeting.

The CMS board’s policy committee ran out of time to discuss possible revisions to its speaker policy Thursday. Members agreed to revisit the issue in December.

Member Tom Tate said the board has long prided itself on being open to public comments but said he’s receptive to change. “There are all kinds of ways to do this where we don’t have to put it on television and have it be part of the meeting,” he said.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms