By Corinne Murdock |
Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) voted Tuesday to halve its public meetings for the upcoming school year, reducing special meetings to every other month. The reduction results in a five-meeting difference from this year to the next.
Superintendent Scott Menzel said that the changes arose after several board members had indicated that their meetings required more work than the board should have to handle, and that public meetings ran too long. Menzel said he initially opposed proposed reductions to the calendar. However, Menzel said he countered with the currently-adopted calendar: a “hybrid” solution that took away five public meetings.
“I didn’t think it would be possible to go to one meeting a month, for multiple reasons. One reason is that there are statutory deadlines that we would miss if we only had one meeting a month,” said Menzel.
Vice President Carine Werner opposed the measure. She said it saddened her that there were complaints from her fellow members about the amount of work they had to do, and that the proposed changes hurt transparency. Werner pointed out that they haven’t even discussed all of the work they needed to do under the current schedule with more meetings.
“I understand it’s a lot of work, but it’s also part of everyone’s jobs, just like it’s our jobs to be here to do the work that our governing board does,” said Werner.
Transparency has been a hot-button issue for the SUSD community over the last few years. Just last summer, the district opted to publish the names of those who file public records requests, but redact educators’ names. The push for greater transparency has come in the wake of discoveries that SUSD allowed and defended educators promoting sexualized and race-focused agendas in the classroom.
Werner added that she found it interesting that fellow board members wanted to reduce meetings, yet was willing to add meetings for the academy attended by administrators.
“I can only imagine the amount of work that’s gone into creating the academy and then fulfilling the work for the 40 applicants that get elected to participate in the program,” said Werner.
Werner also noted that parents and community members had expressed grievances over the proposed calendar change.
Board member Amy Carney pointed out that, by that point in Tuesday’s meeting, they’d been there two hours discussing key issues — an opportunity not possible in the adopted schedule with fewer meetings.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. I can’t understand how we can cut meetings,” said Carney. “One of the critical places for school boards to work, to retain informed trust of the communities is the conduct of meetings.”
Carney asked whether SUSD had ever cut meetings this drastically. Menzel said he wasn’t aware, deferring to Board President Julie Cieniawski. Cieniawski said that, in the past, the board had held more non-public meetings.
Cieniawski also claimed that the addition of town halls were sufficient for the reduction of public meetings.
“This isn’t anyone’s voice being limited or taken away,” said Cieniawski.
Cieniawski contended with Carney’s insistence that the changes would erode community trust, and claimed that community trust came from engagement with local schools, not the board.
Carney attempted to respond to Cieniawski, who ignored and spoke over her and filed a motion to vote on the calendar. Board member Libby Hart-Wells, who appeared remotely for the meeting, seconded Cieniawski’s motion.
Menzel said that regular meetings should concern core business of the district, and that this calendar would free up the board to voluntarily call special meetings with at least 24-hour notice to focus on specific issues as needed. Menzel noted that he didn’t believe special meetings should take place every month, either.
“I don’t see the calendar as taking away from being able to conduct the work of the district, I think it actually enhances and keeps us focused in a way that the current calendar drifted away from, with the way the schedule is at the present time,” said Menzel.
Hart-Wells said she hadn’t heard any concerns from the community about the meeting restructuring.
Arizona law only requires school boards to have a minimum of one meeting per month.
Watch discussion of the board meeting reduction here: