Public comments not allowed at Sumter board meeting - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Public comments not allowed at Sumter board meeting

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Parents and students are upset in Sumter County after they were not allowed to speak at a school board meeting Tuesday.

Sumter School District's board meets the second and fourth Monday of each month, but because of the national Veterans Day observance Monday, the meeting was moved to Tuesday. However, this meeting was titled an Oath of Office and Organizational meeting and the board's typical 15-minute public comment section was removed.

"This was an organizational meeting of the board and not a regular board meeting," said Shelly Galloway, public information officer for Sumter School District.

The regular board meeting, which would have been on the second Monday, is no more and that has parents and students wondering why the change took place Tuesday.

"We always have public participation," said Carol Funke, a parent of two Sumter High graduates." I've been to a lot of meetings in the past year, and this is the first time there has not been public participation. And secondly, two weeks ago when they moved the meeting to Tuesday night because Monday was Veterans Day (observance), there was no mentioning that there was a special session like they are saying now. They said there would be a swearing in, but that was the only thing they said that was going to be different."

Other than the date change, Sumter School Board started its meeting at 6 p.m., when it usually starts at that time with an executive session, followed by the board's open session at 6:45 p.m. An executive session was held for about 30 minutes Tuesday, after 15 minutes of a meeting swearing in board members.

Galloway told WIS on Tuesday that the meeting agenda was sent to The Item in Sumter on Saturday and was posted on the newspaper's website Monday. It appeared on the school district's website Tuesday morning.

However, Jason Leto, of the S.C. Education Association, said the board did not give the required 24-hour notice for Tuesday's meeting.

"I didn't see it Monday and nobody saw it until today," Leto said. "… The law requires they post the agenda 24 hours in advance. It should have been posted (at the school district office) and school district's website. … They have to provide the information to the public and not only the media."

Despite what the agenda said Tuesday morning, the public filled every audience seat during the board meeting Tuesday night.

"My problem is the way they are running this meeting and are wasting our tax money," said F.D. Schmidt, of Sumter. "They should have had public comments tonight because there was a lot of the public here. … The public is concerned about how the schools are being run today. The teachers are scared to speak out."

Tammi Soles, who has four children and two grandchildren in Sumter public schools, said not allowing public participation is disappointing.

"Some people came expecting to speak tonight and having no idea they would not be able to," Soles said. "It's very disappointing to have a board that almost seems like they are silencing the public when they want to speak. I really have an issue with the amount of time they give us to speak when we come to speak."

By having 15-minutes for public comments at 3 minutes per person, the session allows for at least five people to speak. The parents and students WIS spoke with Tuesday said that's not enough.

Despite the large public turnout, the board followed its agenda Tuesday night and didn't let the public speak.

"The Sumter School District, the Board of Trustees and the superintendent value their input," Galloway said. "We welcome the public input."

Galloway said those who want to speak can do so at the next meeting Nov. 26.

But now, the public's image has worsened toward the school board trustees.

"I think it looks like more irresponsibility and continues to look at the school board look like a group of people that don't put education and children first," Leto said. "They are trying to protect themselves and protect their image instead of doing what is right and putting the children first."

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