The Bend-La Pine School Board meets Tuesday and on the agenda .... well, we haven’t seen the agenda yet. But we wouldn’t be surprised if there was more to come of what we have seen lately.
A crowd displeased. An argumentative crowd. A crowd that interrupts when others speak.
That’s happened in the past on some contentious issues. Lately it has been the rule, not the exception. Disagreements over masking rules and concern about curriculum seem to have driven most of it. But there are other things, as well.
The Bulletin’s community editorial board spoke recently with school board Chair Melissa Barnes Dholakia about what the school board might do.
It has already created school board listening sessions. A few members of the board will meet with the public and allow them to air their views. That is new. And it’s a good change. The time during board meetings for public comment is limited. Not everyone who wants to speak can get a chance. And sometimes people don’t want to just send an email. They want to speak. They want to see the reaction when they do.
Dholakia said nothing has been decided yet but another thing other districts do is to spread the opportunity for public comment around. In other words, if a person has spoken at a recent board meeting, he or she might be given a lower priority to speak at the next one, if someone who has not spoken recently signed up to speak. Another option would be to give priority to people who live in the district or whose children attend the district’s schools. We repeat: Those changes have not been adopted for Bend-La Pine. They are just ideas. And they wouldn’t eliminate the opportunity for people to email the school board, in any case.
Dholakia can get 100-200 emails a week. She responds to them all, or at least tries to. The district also recently put in an auto-responder, so people do know their email was received. With some people, Dholakia has offered to meet with them in person and take a walk and talk or get coffee. That is about as open a school board chair as we could ask for.
The problem is people may find a way to speak their mind and they may still feel like they are not being heard. The new school board is not in agreement on every issue — as we saw recently on the divided vote on its reopening plan. But the board can seem like it uniformly represents a more liberal outlook on the issues it confronts. People who wish for a more conservative approach can feel like they don’t have a voice on the board and their comments fall on deaf ears.
You don’t have to go back more than a handful of years to when there certainly seemed a more politically diverse board. But this is the school board that voters chose. They do have to lead for the whole district. They should make an effort to truly listen to the views of all those they represent without being patronizing. But this is the board voters chose.