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Policy change? Proposed revision could reduce public speaking time at BOE meetings


by Joanne Kountourakis and Chrissy Ruggeri | Tue, Jul 9 2024
A proposed policy change could reduce allotted speaking times at board of education meetings by two minutes.

A proposed policy change could reduce allotted speaking times at board of education meetings by two minutes.

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A proposed change to the Northport-East Northport board of education’s participation policy could shorten the time allotted for individual speakers at meetings from the current five minutes to three minutes for both public comment on agenda items and during the general public participation period. Adopting the policy revision will be discussed at the upcoming board of education (BOE) meeting. 

The change, proposed by the district’s Policy Committee, was reviewed at a first reading on June 20. The second reading is scheduled for this Thursday, July 11, when the board may make any changes to the proposed policy, decline to move the policy forward or adopt it as is.

A similar policy change shortening an individual’s speaking time to three minutes was last proposed in October 2021, though board members ultimately decided to keep the allotted time at five minutes. At the June 20 meeting, however, no trustees voiced concerns about the potential change to speaking time. Trustee David Badanes said the current five minute speaking time is “more than sufficient” and that a reduction to three minutes is still enough time for speakers to give their opinions to the board without hindering their freedom of speech. 

The three-minute limit for individual speakers is not uncommon. According to board policies listed on the Harborfields, Kings Park and Elwood school district websites, public comments related to district business or any agenda item “should be kept as brief as possible,” and may not exceed three minutes in all three districts. In Kings Park, public comments for both agenda and non-agenda items are not to exceed 30 minutes combined, while Harborfields and Elwood allow for a maximum of 30 minutes for each participation period. 

This most recent policy change, if adopted, would also establish a time limit of 30 minutes of public comment for each participation period at Northport-East Northport BOE meetings; there is currently no time limit on either session. 

During the first reading of the proposed policy changes, some trustees pushed back on the 30-minute time limit for public comment. It wouldn’t be fair, many agreed, to cut off public participation after thirty minutes if not everyone who submitted a card was able to speak. In these cases, Superintendent Moyer said, the board would be able to extend the speaking time with a majority vote. The proposed changes indicate the right of the BOE to increase allotted time limits if necessary – for both speakers and participation periods.

According to the proposed policy revisions, which can be found here, any person wishing to speak during either public participation portion (agenda items and non-agenda items) must submit on a card provided by the district clerk their name, address, affiliation and a brief statement of the point they wish to make or question they wish to ask. “Such cards must be submitted prior to the start of the public meeting after any potential Executive Session has concluded,” the policy revision reads.

Presently, any person wishing to speak on agenda items discussed by the board can raise their hand and, once recognized by the president of the BOE, speak for the allotted five minutes. Cards are available for those who want to speak on non-agenda items, though they can be handed in before or after the meeting starts. 

According to the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) website, school boards generally follow one of three common formats in regards to public participation at meetings: allow for public comment on agenda items before official district business is discussed; allow for just one public comment time after the board has concluded its business; or allow for two public comment sessions, one specific to agenda items and one for general comments toward the end of the meeting.

For years, meeting participants in the Northport-East Northport school district were given five minutes to speak during one public comment/participation period before the superintendent’s report and business discussions. In 2021, however, following a board-approved revision to agenda order, participants were invited to comment after public discussion of agenda items as well, but were required to keep comments specific to that agenda item. 

The most recent proposed changes, Trustee Carol Taylor said, are meant to organize meetings in a way similar to neighboring districts. 

At the June 20 meeting, Moyer reiterated that public comment is not the only means for residents to express their opinions with the board and that the district’s current public participation policy is “extremely unique” to Northport-East Northport. “In all the districts I’ve been in, I have not seen any district where people comment on each business item separately and each presentation separately,” he said. “This policy is very consistent and in line with what almost every other district around us does. It is designed to give people the opportunity to address the board, but it’s an attempt to try to give [the board] the ability to better manage the meeting and create efficiencies during the meeting that don’t currently exist.” 

The Thursday, July 11 BOE begins at 7pm at the Brosnan building. It can also be viewed via Zoom, here. An organizational meeting will precede the regular BOE meeting, and will see the swearing in of newly elected board member Michael Cleary, who won the seat vacated by Trustee Victoria Buscareno. There will also be a vote by board members to approve a BOE president and new vice president, roles held this past year by Larry Licopoli and Buscareno, respectively. 

Also on the agenda for the July 11 meeting is a business item regarding the district’s contract with brokerage firm Newmark, indicating a recommendation “to approve an Amendment to the December 25, 2022 Agreement between the Northport-East Northport Union Free School District and Newmark of Long Island LLC for lease of real property.” Read the Journal’s most recent article on the Newmark contract here.

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