The school board meetings here in Grandview Heights are normally filled with the standard votes on buying equipment, approving field trips, hiring part time coaches and keeping old buildings running. Every once in a while, a controversial topic like the firing of the band director will cause the room to be filled with angry parents, and the board meeting becomes exciting for a while. Those meeting don’t happen often.
The only wildcard in a standard board meeting is the part called “Recognition of Guests and Hearing of the Public”. Anyone in the community might show up, and in the past, the board was willing to not only hear people out, but give answers to questions from the public. I checked back in past board meeting notes, and found examples of the board answering questions from parents in the early part of 2013.
In the 20 or so years I have been going to Grandview Heights board meetings, I have stood up at the Hearing section of the meeting and asked questions about the board policy on drug use by students, the process for funding the SRO, questions about class size in kindergarten and other topics. The board members were always willing to answers questions, even if the questions were about topics they would rather keep silent on.
The one question I have asked most often of board members is “how can I get you to answer my email?”. That was the first question I asked when Grant Douglas was elected board president, and he answered my question at the board meeting.
I went to the October 21, 2014 board meeting, and held my hand up to speak before the board in the Hearing part of the meeting. As I had done in the past, I asked a question about board policy.
Grant Douglass said “We don’t answer questions from the public at board meetings”.
I asked how I could get an answer then. He said I could wait to the end of the meeting, after it was adjourned, and he would talk to me. That would mean the talk would be off the record, unrecorded. I asked him if he could answer my emails. He said again “We can talk” (off the record).
Douglass was not breaking any rules for the chairing of board meetings by refusing to answer questions. The state of Ohio says the board must allow the public to speak, but there is no requirement to answer. The board meetings of the city of Columbus follow the same policy of allowing comments, but never give answers.
Grandview was always different from Columbus. Even though we are a city surrounded by a major municipal area, the small size of the Grandview schools used to mean that the board was willing to do the right thing, and have a conversation about school policy with anyone who showed up for a board meeting. No more, under Grant Douglass.
I sent him an email containing the questions I couldn’t get answered at the board meeting. They were the same questions I had sent him a month ago, and he had not answered. I’m not holding my breath for a reply from him.
(Later) Douglass replied to my email, saying he was not going to answer my questions by email. How surprising.