RALEIGH — The public could soon have less chance to speak out at Wake County school board meetings.
The school board is set to adopt changes today that would eliminate one of the two monthly public comment periods at board meetings. The cutback is part of a series of changes, including eliminating standing board committees, that members of the majority say will make things run more efficiently.
"It's a way of streamlining meetings and accommodating some board members who are employed," said school board Chairman Ron Margiotta.
Opponents of the new measures complain that the changes will reduce the input of the public and board members on decisions.
"My current colleagues were elected on a platform of listening to the public," said school board member Kevin Hill, a member of the minority faction.
Opponents of the board majority that took office after the election last fall have dominated most of the meetings. They've complained about the board majority's elimination of the policy of ensuring socioeconomic diversity in schools in favor of assigning students to new community zones that are being developed.
Supporters of the discarded diversity policy have stepped up their dissent to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience. At the meeting July 20, Raleigh police arrested 19 people on trespassing charges, including state NAACP head the Rev. William Barber.
Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan said Monday that the department spent $14,000 for extra officers at the July 20 meeting. He warned that the police will need to find more money if additional security is required at future meetings.
School officials say they've spent $20,960 on security at board meetings since December, including $2,197 for off-duty police and private security officers on July 20.
A large security presence is expected again today. Raleigh police have now installed a video camera in the board meeting room to monitor the proceedings.
Margiotta said the board is not reducing the amount of public comment because of the protesters. Under the new format, which got preliminary approval July 20, the board would now have only one regular meeting a month at which public comment is allowed. The second meeting would be a work session and would have no public comment period.
Margiotta said the monthly work session will allow the elimination of the standing committees. Special committees such as those dealing with student assignment would still meet.
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