TUSD's Hicks: Move public's comments to end of meetings

2013-08-13T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T08:49:10Z TUSD's Hicks: Move public's comments to end of meetingsAlexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

If TUSD Governing Board Member Michael Hicks has his way, the public will have to wait until the end of meetings to address the board.

With meetings that generally run late into the night - sometimes until midnight or later - the move, if approved, could stifle the community's voice.

Hicks has previously said Governing Board meetings are intended for "board business," not to serve as meetings of the public. He feels the change will help move things along faster.

Currently, 45 minutes of public comment are set aside at the beginning of regular meetings and 20 minutes are allotted for special meetings. While each speaker is limited to three minutes, there are no restrictions regarding subject matter.

As a result, too often speakers are not discussing anything that the board is set to address, Hicks says.

"We're supposed to be conducting school and board business, not listening to people talk about things that are not on the agenda," Hicks said. "They're there to criticize and attack - that's the majority of what I've seen. If you're not going to provide constructive concerns or feedback, then you're wasting our time, your own time and your fellow citizens' time."

There are also times when the Governing Board extends the public comment portion to accommodate the number of people who want to speak, sometimes making the audience call twice as long.

"It's hard for me," Hicks said. "Before you know it, it's 10 p.m. and I'm making decisions that will affect every child in TUSD, and I'm not making good decisions because I'm not functioning well because it's late at night."

Rather than sticking around to get through all of the issues on the agenda, Hicks is often seen leaving meetings before they finish.

The Governing Board is expected to vote tonight on whether to put Hicks' proposal on a future agenda.

Hicks' fellow board members, however, do not seem to be on the same page.

"That's not right," said Board Clerk Kristel Ann Foster. "We serve our community and the most welcoming way to do that is to have their voices heard first and foremost.

"It's an opportunity for the public to come forward and voice concerns. I appreciate that some issues are brought up over and over again because it's important to know that the ideas are alive and important to the people we serve."

Foster acknowledged some use the call to the audience session as a "platform for attention" but said that's par for the course, adding that the three-minute time limit doesn't allow speakers to "grandstand for hours on end."

Board Member Cam Juarez agreed, saying such a move would be prohibitive.

"I don't know the logic behind this other than to keep people from communicating directly with the board," Juarez said, noting he needed to have further discussion with Hicks to get a full understanding.

Some also expressed concerns about not having the chance to hear the public before a vote, to which Hicks responded: "If you're coming to the meeting and we have an action item and we're going to base our decision off of three minutes, you're not doing your homework."

He added, "if there's an issue that a member of the public wants to address before the vote, they're far better off sending an email."

Despite his stance, Hicks said he may be open to resolving that particular issue by having an audience call before an action item as long as speakers stay on topic.

Board Member Mark Stegeman has previously supported the idea of limiting topics of discussion to issues on the agenda at special meetings and leaving regular meetings as is.

"It could be reasonable to revisit that idea," Stegeman said. "I do understand that audience calls have consumed a lot of time and have substantially lengthened board meetings. It's a legitimate concern. I just don't think moving the call is the answer."

In other business, the board will vote on whether to approve culturally relevant government and history classes taught from the Mexican-American and African-American perspectives.

If approved, the classes will be offered to TUSD juniors and seniors at pilot schools - Cholla, Tucson and Pueblo high schools - starting Thursday. Palo Verde Magnet High School will also offer a pilot program in U.S. history from an African-American perspective.

The culturally relevant curricula are based on the Arizona Common Core standards, with involvement from curriculum experts across the country, all of the major Arizona universities, local content area experts in TUSD who currently teach government and the TUSD community.

The Tucson Unified School District says the curricula are not in violation of a state law that ultimately resulted in the elimination of TUSD's Mexican American Studies classes. The curricula were reviewed by the Arizona Department of Education and feedback was provided to the district.

Five main concepts will be covered in the government classes: foundations of government; structure of government; functions of government; rights, responsibilities and roles of citizenship; and government systems of the world.

The history courses focus on the following 10 concepts: research skills for history; early civilizations; exploration and colonization; revolution and a new nation; westward expansion; Civil War and Reconstruction; emergence of the modern U.S.; Great Depression and World War II; postwar U.S.; and contemporary U.S.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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