PEORIA -- The Peoria District 150 School Board continued its apparent campaign to suppress public comment and criticism when it moved the public comment section of its Nov. 28 meeting to the end of a lengthy meeting, and limited comments to two minutes each.
That prompted me me to speak to complain about this new wrinkle in trying to avoid the public. The audio is posted below.
This board has a now lengthy track record of secrecy. First in the spring of 2009 it stopped the live cable TV broadcasts of its meetings, claiming, falsely, that the equipment to do a good job was too expensive.
Instead it videoed the meetings for replay a week later, and omitted - censored - the public comments, often the only interesting and newsworthy part of the meetings. I began recording the public comments for this blog. Soon the rebroadcasts ended.
Now in the Nov. 28 meeting the comments were relegated to the end of the meeting, enough to discourage all but the truly dedicated.
The meeting, scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., began 10 minutes late. It was labeled a 'committee of the whole' meeting -- the excuse for moving the public comments to the end and cutting back the time to two minutes per speaker.
The label was a fraud. It had all the earmarks of a regular meeting, including votes to pay bills, discipline and expell students and hire personnel.
Student and school presentations (propaganda?) took up 25 minutes until a presentation and discussion of the tax levy and audit began, and lasted 70 minutes. The audience, naturally, began drifting away.
The public comments didn't begin until after votes by the board on routine matters. In all, the meeting lasted nearly three hours, with the public comments stalled until the end.
After my complaints about the time limits and placing the comments at the end of the meeting, Sevino Sierra spoke with the same complaints. "You want to quash the watchdog people from giving constructive criticism. You won't succeed," he said.
He also complained about the physical facilities, including a water stain on the ceiling of the Trewyn School library, where the meeting took place. "That could create mold," he said, asking that it be repaired.
Activist Terry Knapp criticized the board for not following its own policy that a committee of teachers select textbooks. Supt. Grenita Lathan at the previous meeting admitted that an administrator had selected an expensive set of science textbooks, not a committee, as had been the practice for years.
That came after a free 'audit' by a consultant for the textbook company. Activists are still seeking information on how this happened.
Knapp used the Freedom of Information Act to request the credentials of the administrator who picked the books. The district responded that it has no "public records regarding" the administrator's "teaching record or undergraduate coursework."
He said he did receive information on her master's degree, in educational administration, not science.
Knapp reminded the board that Illinois law requires the board to vote on textbook acceptance -- something that has not been done recently.
Now you see why the board would not want this information disseminated to the public!
If broadcasting is not feasible (yet other community groups use the cable TV system to broadcast meetings, so why isn't it feasible?), the district could use students to webcast the meetings on its own website. That's not rocket science. Illinois Central College and the Peoria County Board already do this.
But if it can operate in secrecy, while proclaiming transparency, so much the better, I suppose.
Here's the audio:
-- Elaine Hopkins