At the January Souderton Area School District action meeting, a few speakers during public comment continued to push for transparency in school board meetings, especially in its monthly committee meetings.
Held on the second Wednesday of each month, the committee meetings are where board members deliberate and discuss matters likely to come up at their action meetings on the fourth Thursday of each month.
While the action meetings are broadcast on SATV (Souderton Area TeleVision) and available for viewing on Verizon channel 46 and Comcast (Xfinity) channel 28, committee meetings are not recorded or broadcast.
Both the committee and action meetings have agendas which reflect documents to be discussed or read. However, the public comment speakers complain that no documents are provided in advance of the meetings and in many cases they aren’t available for review at the meetings.
One of the speakers, Rosemary Buetikofer, recently ran for school board, is the parent of two graduates and a former music teacher.
Reached after she spoke at the Jan. 25 meeting, Buetikofer pointed out that “not everyone is free to come to a meeting in person, and we have technology available to make a meeting accessible. I know that other districts in Montgomery County use Zoom or telephone to allow remote public, including allowing public comment. Districts taught school remotely, the technology to engage the public is readily available.”
She further added, “PA School Code requires that when a school board updates or adopts a new policy, the policy must be presented to the public at three consecutive meetings in order to allow the public time to review the policy.”
“Several audience members expected to have the policy 'read' or at least referenced, but the only notice of it is the listing on the agenda. It’s only available by logging into Board Docs on the Souderton Area School District website, locating the policy by number, and pulling up the text. It could easily be included in the actual agendas via attachments, which would be more convenient for the public.”
Corrine DeGreiso, a Telford resident, who raised concerns in a prior meeting, stated at the Jan. 25 action meeting; “I’m asking the board to please make the necessary changes to encourage more parental engagement.”
She outlined four recommendations:
1. Include presentations and materials as attachments with agendas on Board Docs
2. Record and post committee meetings on the district website
3. Archive all meeting recordings instead of just posting them for 30 days
4. Livestream both committee and action meetings
Dr. Frank Gallagher, superintendent, responded to the complaints on behalf of the board with the following:
“We are currently in the process of exploring the idea of recording committee meetings and posting them on our website. Stay tuned for more information coming out about that.”
“The Souderton Area School District and school board are both very committed to operating in as transparent a manner as possible, and we are always open to questions. Recently the media has given attention to a small, vocal group that has suggested we are not operating transparently. We strongly disagree. We are providing full access to information and are in complete legal compliance in the ways that we are providing information and conducting board committee meetings.”
The next Souderton school board committee meeting is Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. The next action meeting is on Feb. 22. For more information, visit soudertonsd.org.