The South-Western school board on Feb. 22 continued discussions on its public comments policy.

The South-Western school board on Feb. 22 continued discussions on its public comments policy.

In December 2008, the board changed the public participation policy to require residents wishing to speak on topics not on the meeting agenda to register with the district office the Thursday before Monday meetings.

The current plan would change that registration deadline back to Monday.

Board president Randy Reisling said the board's policy committee should discuss the plan before a vote is taken.

In January, newly elected school board member Karen Dover requested the policy be given more discussion, calling it "somewhat of a P.R. issue."

After a month of research, deputy superintendent Phil Warner told school board members Feb. 22 that since the early registration was put in place, residents registered early 103 times to speak about items not on the agenda.

Warner said 78 registrations were levy related, while 18 involved other topics.

He said two people who wished to speak missed the early deadline and could not speak.

Also, he said, two concerns of the 103 requests were resolved before the meeting.

Warner added the early registration policy created some "bumps in the road."

He said because the policy requires residents to sign up the Thursday before meetings, the administration would rush to release the meeting's agenda by Wednesday. The rush caused the administration to write more addendums to agendas than before the policy change.

He said he researched 15 other school districts -- 10 similar districts from around the state, four in Franklin County and one in Fairfield County -- and found that South-Western's policy is not unusual.

Warner finished his presentation by alluding to the Ohio School Boards Association's policy: A school board meeting is not a public meeting, it's a meeting held in public.

He said school board members can change the policy as they please.

School board member Cathy Johnson, who is the chairwoman of the policy committee, said the change was never intended "to thwart public participation," but that is the perception.

"I have no difficulty at all taking this back to the policy committee for further review," Johnson said.

Board member Mindy Garverick said she would "prefer to see it stay the way it is."

She said Warner's research shows no person that was deterred from talking to the board because of the policy.

"There are other issues that require our attention," Garverick said. "I just wonder when this is going to stop."

School board member Jo Ellen Myers said the policy limits opportunities.

"What you're saying is 'We don't care what (residents) want to say,'" Myers said.

"No, that's not what I'm saying," Garverick said.

"I think you are," Myers interjected. "Because you're limiting their opportunity to come."

Myers added residents can have trouble remembering to register to speak on Thursdays before Monday meetings. She said board members would get more participation from the public if the deadline were later.

Garverick told Myers, "I never said I don't want to hear from the public."

"But that's the perception that some of the public has," Myers replied.

Garverick said the policy has been in place for more than a year and "it's worked well."

Myers said it's been "in contention for over a year."

Dover suggested the registration deadline be changed to 10 a.m. Monday.

Also at the meeting, Beth Glitt, district food services supervisor, and Christine Smith, assistant supervisor, told school board members that more than 2.2-million lunches were served last school year.

Glitt said 78 percent of the nearly 20,000 students made a purchase from school cafeterias.

ebrooks@thisweeknews.com