A discussion about the Reynoldsburg Board of Education's changed practices regarding speakers at board meetings turned into a debate March 17 between board President Elaine Tornero and resident Andy Rodenmayer.

A discussion about the Reynoldsburg Board of Education's changed practices regarding speakers at board meetings turned into a debate March 17 between board President Elaine Tornero and resident Jim Rodenmayer.

Under former board president Andrew Swope, who served as a school board member for 15 years, people could fill out "speaker slips" immediately before a board meeting if they wanted to speak that evening. As soon as Tornero became president in January, the speaker slips disappeared.

People are now required to notify the board office seven days in advance of a meeting if they want to speak. Board meetings are typically held the third Tuesday of every month.

Tornero defended her interpretation of board policy rule No. 1, which she said states, "Any person wishing to be heard by the board should first discuss the matter with the appropriate person on the superintendent's administrative staff and with the superintendent."

She said the seven days "allow time for the person wishing to be heard to discuss their issue with the appropriate administrator.

"Seven days prior to the board's monthly business meeting is also when the agenda is finalized," Tornero said. "Knowing if (there will be speakers) and how many speakers to expect is helpful for planning purposes."

She said the rules were relaxed before and during last fall's teachers' strike because of the large number of people who wanted to address the school board.

Rodenmayer said Tornero's interpretation of the rules is incorrect because, he said, the policy clearly states, "It is suggested, although not required, that persons or delegates desiring to be heard before the board regarding topics not on the prepared agenda notify the superintendent and/or board president of the topic no later than seven calendar days in advance of the meeting."

Rule No. 3 in the policy states, "A speaker must be recognized by the presiding officer and shall present his/her name, address, group affiliation, if any, and topic to be discussed on a card provided, and said card shall be presented to the treasurer before the start of the meeting."

Rodenmayer said the "not required" part of the policy, plus the fact it still mentions presenting speaker cards and designates a difference if a subject is on the agenda, means the policy clearly allows speakers to sign up directly before a meeting.

"If you want to change this practice, then you must change the policy," he said.

Tornero said people should first talk to the appropriate administrator or email individual school board members about an issue.

"Many issues people have could be resolved without going in front of the board," she said. "All five board members have email addresses on the website. I believe the spirit of the policy is in its flexibility."

Rodenmayer countered again with Rule No. 3.

"The problem is, Rule 3 says a citizen can come in prior to a board meeting and fill out a card to be presented to the treasurer," he said.

Board member Sandy Long agreed there should be more clarification regarding speakers.

"We will be conducting a formal review of the policy," she said. "We do fully need more clarification, especially if a topic is on the agenda or not on the agenda."

Other central Ohio school boards, including those in Westerville, Whitehall, Canal Winchester, Bexley, Dublin, Hilliard, Pickerington and Upper Arlington, allow people to register to speak immediately before a meeting. The South-Western City Schools district does require people who wish to speak at board meetings to register ahead of time, but the deadline is noon the same day as the meeting.