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Apr. 4 - COMMENTARY: Hatchett’s Effort for Public Input at School Boards Deserves Praise and Support

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By Lou Phelps, Publisher

April 4, 2017 – You have to have been there last week, to really understand the level of confusion, stress, hallway last-ditch-efforts by lobbyists, negotiations, conference committees and just plain arm-twisting that could be observed during the final two days of the Georgia General Assembly - March 28 and 30. 

A long list of bills were ultimately passed by the House and moved up to the Senate – the higher body – and will now move to Governor Deal’s desk for his consideration.   More than 75 bills were passed on Tuesday and Thursday by the Senate along, as the session wound to a close, not finishing until almost 1:00 a.m. Friday morning. Add to that a LONG list of Amendments to the Amendments ... you get this picture. 

But, it’s important to take a moment to look at a bill that didn’t make it - to understand, praise and support the effort by Dublin’s State Rep. Matt Hatchett (R) - who worked on a bill that died in committee on the final day.

HB 625 never got to the floor for a vote by either the House or the Senate, sent on the final day to the House Education Committee.

We hope it will live another day, next year.

Rep. Hatchett’s bill would require local boards of education to have a public comment period at every meeting. And, the citizen would not have to tell the school board in advance what they wanted to talk about. 

It seems a shame for it to be necessary to pass a State law to require school boards to do the right thing - to listen to the parents of the children that they are responsible for educating. But, we see this in multiple counties covered by Coastal Empire News in Middle and Coastal Georgia.  Parents have concerns, questions, and opinions.  Too often, it is either cumbersome to ‘get on the Agenda,’ or there is no public comment period allowed at all.  

If a School Board is not willing to listen to its constituents, local voters need to take a hard look at who is arrogantly representing them.

Rep. Hatchett’s bill had additional elements, such as “it shall be the duty of each local board of education to hold a regular meeting during each calendar month for the transaction of business pertaining to the public schools.”  Again, sort of sad that a State law may be necessary.

“The local board shall annually determine the date of its meeting and shall publish it either in the official county organ or, at the option of the local board of education, in a newspaper having a general circulation in said county at least equal to that of the official county organ for two consecutive weeks following the setting of the date,” the bill also provides.  Some of this is covered by the Georgia Open Meeting laws, but unfortunately, those laws are not always followed … and there is little to no action against public bodies that fail to comply by the Attorney General’s Office.

“A local board of education shall not require notice by an individual prior to the date of the meeting as a condition of addressing the local board during such public comment period. The chairperson of the local board of education shall have the discretion to limit the length of time for individual comments and the number of individuals speaking for or against a specific issue,” is also language of the bill.

Play it again next year, Matt. 


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