"Why is this board so afraid of ideas?" Jennifer Smith asked of fellow board members during Tuesday's Olentangy school board meeting. "What is the harm in discussing issues?"

"Why is this board so afraid of ideas?" Jennifer Smith asked of fellow board members during Monday's Olentangy school board meeting. "What is the harm in discussing issues?"

Smith wants to be able to discuss issues during a board meeting without having to get the item on the agenda or obtain a second from another board member to proceed.

She said it should be embarrassing to the board and district that she, a board member, had to previously fill out a public participation form, leave her seat at the board table and go to the podium in order to address an issue.

Teri Meider, who stressed she has been on the board for six years, said the practice of contacting the board president in advance and getting a second by a board member has worked effectively in the past and could not see the need for a change.

The discussion, expected to last for 30 minutes, went back and forth for nearly an hour, as board members participated in a debate that became heated at times with voices rising.

It was one of two items consuming most of a more than two-hour meeting.

Dimon McFerson said he is not afraid of a discussion on any topic.

He said he is willing to set aside the board's rules, without changing the governance policy, for a two- or three-month period to see what would happen.

"I don't think we, as a board, should have the perception by the community that we are afraid to talk about things," he said.

President Scott Galloway said the board cannot suspend the governance policy. A specific policy has to be suspended one meeting at a time.

Interim Superintendent Jenny Hooie took part in the discussion, particularly with regard to redistricting, curriculum and the board governance policy.

"With all due respect, this is a board conversation about board governance policy, which is the board's purview, not yours," said Smith as she claimed that the five members represent 90,000 people.

During the discussion, Julie Wagner-Feasel disagreed with Smith, who accused Wagner-Feasel of saying one thing on the phone and doing something else at a meeting.

Wagner-Feasel said she did not have all the information at the time they talked.

"I also told you that I wanted to look into the whole retiree-hire process, which we haven't been able to do because we are too busy dealing with stuff like this," she said.

Another issue that dominated the meeting was a finance and audit committee update, which McFerson presented on behalf of committee chairperson Sue Mahler.

He said Mahler became ill, so he was making the presentation.

Smith said she talked to Mahler earlier in the day. Mahler said the district asked her to e-mail her presentation so McFerson could present it and that is why she was not present.

Wagner-Feasel said right before the meeting Mahler said she was sick.

"I know she is not feeling well as well," Smith said, "but she said she was asked specifically to e-mail this presentation into the district so that someone else could present this. I know she is pretty upset about that."

The intent of the committee, according to the report read by McFerson who serves on it, is to assist the board in a financial advisory role.

The goal is to ensure that the budget is reasonable in light of the growth in the district.

Some of the things driving the district's operating costs include the number and distribution of schools and facilities, particularly in light of the fact that the number of schools will climb from 16 to 20 between fiscal years 2007 and 2009.

Student enrollment is projected at 14,105 in fiscal year 2009, although McFerson said it will probably be closer to 14,200.

A total of 1,626 people are projected to be employed by the district in fiscal year 2009, making up 83 percent of the $123,614,561 budget with benefits.

The cost per pupil in fiscal year 2008 is $8,520 and expected to rise to $8,764 in fiscal year 2009.

Smith, who also serves on the committee, said McFerson did not include all 20 pages of the report. She said he omitted information and numbers from what Smith called six pages missing at the board meeting.

She criticized the fact that the budget numbers from the previous year were pulled forward with 39 percent added to those numbers.

"That is a huge increase," Smith said.

McFerson said the district leadership team is not spending money unless it is needed and the district is getting results in the classroom with a rating of excellence with distinction on its state report card.

He suggested it is not up to the board to micromanage.

Smith said seven accounts were missing. With two more weeks, she said, she and Mahler believe they could tighten the budget even more than the one being presented.

Treasurer Rebecca Jenkins said none of the budgets have increased at any level for two years at least, as she referred to communications, pupil services, maintenance and custodial.

Utilities have gone up and building levels are based on per pupil dollar. As enrollment increases or decreases the building budgets change.

In the two hours that finance and audit committee met last, Smith said, $807,000 was pulled from the budget. Electricity was over-budgeted by $75,000 and gas was over-budgeted by $230,000.

Wagner-Feasel pointed out that those are guesses and she is leery of have the budget too tight, because of rising energy costs.

Smith argued they are not guesses.

Meider said the micromanaging is out of control.

"It concerns me that the treasurer says that this budget is so tight that it concerns her," Meider said, explaining they do not want to get in a situation where they run out of money. "We have a history of not spending what we don't need to spend."