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School board discusses moving public comment back to full board

The Hastings School Board scheduled a work session for Nov. 9 to discuss changes to its public participation policy.

The board’s August 2021 decision to remove public comment from the school board meetings has been criticized by members of the public. The board instead has two school board members who meet with members of the public just prior to board meetings in a room nearby the Hastings Middle School Media Center, where board meetings are held. The board members then report to the board feedback given, but that feedback is generally vague.

The district’s current Policy 206 states: “There will be at least two school board members available fifteen minutes prior to the start of each Regular Board Meeting. This time is for citizens who wish to address the board regarding a subject that is or is not on the Regular Board Agenda. A maximum of five speakers will be allowed during each listening session. The school board will not engage in discussion or provide responses during this time, however, may respond at a later time and/or direct administration to provide a response.”

The board at that time voted unanimously in support of the public participation change. Three members are no longer on the board: Chair Kelsey Waits, Dave Pemble and Scott Gergen.

Discussion at recent meetings was that a majority of board members now favor bringing the public participation period back to meetings, and it was a matter of debate in the election this week to fill one board seat.

Language under consideration this week would move the public comment to just prior to the regular school board meetings in front of the entire board.

The proposal under consideration states: “Comments to the School Board Sessions will begin at 5:45 p.m. on the day of regular school board meetings. This is for citizens who wish to address the board regarding School District related items and priority will be given to Regular Board Agenda items. A maximum of five speakers will be given the opportunity during each public comment session. The school board will not engage in discussion or provide responses during this time, however may respond at a later time and/or direct administration to follow-up with the speaker.”

Speaker would need to sign up via email “no later than 8 a.m. the day prior to the regularly scheduled board meeting,” under the policy proposal. If there’s a group wishing to be heard, one representative would be allowed to address the board.”

“Only those speakers recognized by the school board will be allowed to speak,” the policy states. “Comments by others are out of order. Individuals who interfere with or interrupt speakers, school board, or the proceedings may be directed to leave.”

Speakers will have three minutes before the board and “time may not be ceded to another speaker.”

The work session was scheduled for 6 p.m. A special school board meeting also will be held just prior, at 5:30 p.m.

Under discussion at that meeting are discussion of “correspondence between the district and legal from November 2021 to present,” according to the agenda, and a memorandum of understanding with Education Minnesota Hastings stipulating additional pay for teachers who lose their prep time because they have to cover a colleague’s classroom because of the difficulty school districts are having in hiring substitute teachers.

“The district has found it necessary, when no substitute has been secured, to assign staff from within a building to cover the class of a colleague, resulting in loss of preparation time.”

The Teacher Master Agreement provides a rate of $34 for per hour for covering a different classroom. “The parties mutually agree that, in an effort to incentivize teachers to voluntarily cover the class of a colleague, it would be beneficial to temporarily increase the rate of pay to such teachers.”

The new agreement will be $50 per hour (rounded to the nearest half hour) for teachers who lose prep time to cover a class. The proposed agreement would be retroactive to Oct. 31, and the agreement would be in place until the end of this school year.

November 9, 2022