Following a public meeting drawn out by argument and lengthy public comment, the New Haven Board of Education’s Governance Committee discussed best practices for operational efficiency at its Monday meeting.
The four BOE members who sit on the Governance Committee expressed concern over some New Haven Public Schools parents and stakeholders’ decorum at the public comment forum during board meetings. While all BOE meetings are open to the public, the board said public participants and board members often fail to follow the meeting guidelines, including a policy that participants’ speeches may not exceed three minutes in length.
Darnell Goldson, a board member who sits on the Governance Committee, called on Mayor Toni Harp, the board’s president, to react strongly and effectively when violations occur.
“We really have to lead by example, and I don’t think we’ve done that. I take full responsibility,” Goldson said. “It has to start with [our chair] on down.”
Goldson described an experience at the Sept. 12 BOE meeting when a parent used inappropriate language and launched a personal attack against him. He said Harp in the past has done little to stop parents cursing or violating other board norms. Michael Nast, a board member and former principal of Wilbur Cross High School in East Rock, said the board cannot tolerate insults and innuendos from any participant during meetings. Nast said the board should not be afraid to immediately adjourn its session if any derogatory statement or comment is made.
The committee proposed moving public comment to the end of meetings, after the superintendent’s report and presentations by committee representatives commenting on the issues being debated. Alicia Caraballo, the BOE’s vice president and a former NHPS administrator, said public comment should still occur before the board votes on any matter, so that public opinion will bear on deliberation.
NHPS Deputy Chief of Youth, Family and Community Engagement Adriana Joseph proposed installing a stoplight to alert participants they are running out of time or have surpassed the three-minute limit. She said a similar device is used in some courtrooms.
While all board members agreed that they must enforce time limits on public comments more strictly, Che Dawson — operations director for Amistad Elementary School, a charter school on Edgewood — said board members should also remain conscious of the amount of time they spend “pontificating.” He said speeches often justify decisions without moving the dialogue forward.
But Goldson, one of only two elected members on the hybrid board, said he often presents lengthy remarks because he feels responsible for explaining his decision-making to the public, given that they voted him onto the board.
Superintendent Garth Harries ’81 noted that New Haven’s BOE is more cohesive than others around the state. He said the chair of Bridgeport’s Board of Education has currently suspended meetings due to a serious disagreement between him and one board member.
The board’s Sept. 12 meeting, which featured a controversial vote on the new principal of Fair Haven’s Clinton Avenue School, left many board members unhappy with a failure to follow official processes. Caraballo said while she will support the new principal, Kristina DeNegre, she was aggravated over the method by which she was elected.
The next BOE meeting will be Sept. 26.