News
Prescott School Board examines public comment, communication policies

By Sarah Nigbor

PRESCOTT – The Prescott School Board at its Dec. 15 meeting agreed to begin work on revising and clarifying its policies surrounding engagement and staff communication, and public comment during regular board meetings.

Questions have arisen concerning these policies, specifically whether or not school district staff are allowed to communicate directly with board members rather than going through the superintendent.

“I’ve heard some in the community think the board is untouchable,” said Board Treasurer Tanya Holub. “That it’s hard to get a hold of a board member to express concerns for rear of possible retribution or discipline.”

Holub said she believes that belief may be because of how the policies are laid out. She and the rest of the board agreed the policies’ language needs examining, specifically No. 143 (authority of individual board members), No. 3112 (professional staff) and No. 4122 (support staff).

Holub said she found it difficult to see a defined “chain of command,” and found it difficult to understand if the policy allows staff to contact board members with concerns.

Board President Mike Matzek suggested a committee that includes staff and administration to provide direction on the needed policy changes. Board Vice President Steve Sizemore was glad to see the policies on the agenda, because he said his interpretation is that staff must go through Superintendent Dr. Rick Spicuzza first. He would like clarification and believes language in the policies is conflicting.

“As a board member, I would like to see this structured so that the people who work in the district feel comfortable calling a board member and having a conversation,” said Sizemore. “And board members understanding the reality that we need to listen, understand what’s going on and then make sure the proper chain of command has been followed. That the staff members had an opportunity to talk to their supervisor that they’ve had the opportunity to talk to their building administrator, that they’ve had an opportunity to work through human resources if necessary and that our superintendent is available if it gets to that level too.”

Board member Vicki Rudolph said she wants staff to feel free to talk to board members without fear of retribution.

“I don’t want them to feel like they’re having to sneak around,” she said. “Or that they’re facing possible discipline or something along those lines.”

Holub said she would like to see more systematic, purposeful communication between the board and staff, perhaps in the form of surveys.

Matzek iterated that he doesn’t want the board to “play manager.” But he’d like people to be able to talk to them so they can be pointed in the right direction.

As for policy surrounding public comment time during school board meetings, Matzek said since March 2020, many school boards across the country have been clarifying these policies. It’s his hope to maximize public comment time while allowing meetings, which can be hours long, the appropriate amount of time to conduct business. Matzek said the policies (Nos. 0166 Agenda and 0167.3 Public Comment at Board Meetings) are vague, which makes it tough to govern or run a meeting. He would like to see more clarity as far as boundaries, what can be said during public comment time, the length of time allowed, etc.

Clifton resident Joe Rohl had made a plea at the meeting’s beginning to continue allowing public comment time.

“It’s my sincere hope that discussions … related to the interaction with the public of this board at open meetings, that you’re making it easier for people to get up here and share their points of view with you, and not making it more difficult or challenging,” Rohl said.

Holub agreed, saying she likes to hear multiple perspectives and voices. She lamented that some people don’t feel comfortable commenting. Sizemore said he doesn’t blame them.

“People feel stonewalled,” Sizemore said. “People ask a question and we just stare at them and say Dr. Spicuzza will get back to you. But many people in the audience have the same questions and then they have to chase down the answer.”

He said if comments ever get inflammatory, they’ll address them as they come. They might not have every answer right away.

Holub and Matzek agreed to take the reins on studying the public comment policies and suggesting any clarifications and changes. It’s not clear when the item will next be on the agenda.

Other business

•The board approved hiring Amy Bartels as a high school special education teacher and the resignation of middle school math teacher Bryanne Stites, who has taken a job outside of education.

•The board approved an overnight choir trip Jan. 9-11 to the Dorian Vocal Festival at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. It’s considered the “Super Bowl” of the choir program.

•The board approved a three-year contract with Lawn Green for mowing and trimming in an amount of $39,675 per year and fertilizer and weed control for the sports fields, etc. for $19,125 per year. Grounds Supervisor Mike Hoikka said only one bid was received, and believes it’s due to staffing shortages.

•The board approved the purchase of a 71passenger Bluebird Vision gas bus for $95,970. The district is moving away from diesel buses due to repair prices and issues.

•The board approved the extension of 4K community agreements (for three years) with Heart, Hands and Mind Childcare, New Adventures Learning Center and St. Jospeh Parish School.

•Prescott Middle School has opened a Coffee Café. Hours are 8:30-9 a.m. Wednesdays.

•The board recognized fifth grade teacher Helen Raebel for her nomination for a Kohl Teacher Fellowship Award and STEM teacher Karey Sizemore for her nomination for a Presidential Award for Excellence in Math & Science Teaching.

January 11, 2022