Editorial: There must be a happy medium for public input at BESE meetings

A growing number of Louisiana taxpayers

who have concerns to address with the state’s top school board are

claiming the expression

“seen but not heard” applies to them — or at least seen but not

heard enough.

In what was supposed to be a meeting focused on opening charter schools in the Recovery School District, the Aug. 12 meeting

of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education quickly turned into a debate on public input.

“We have never cut them off,” BESE President Chas Roemer told The Advocate of Baton Rouge. “We have never stopped discussions,

and I am not suggesting we do so now.”

BESE rules say public comments are limited to a maximum of three minutes per person, those representing groups are allowed

five minutes.

Roemer insists the board routinely gives public speakers extra time despite those rules.

But BESE member Lottie Beebe said some of the people attending meetings feel stifled when it comes to speaking up.

“The public is already saying they feel like they are censored,” Beebe told the Advocate.

BESE sets polices for about 700,000 public school students in Louisiana and generally meets over a two-day period. The first

day consists of committee meetings in which recommendations for the full board are decided. The full board meets the next


On occasions, meetings go beyond their scheduled times because of the amount of public speakers who want their voices heard.

Roemer said BESE’s policy is more generous than time allowed before other bodies.

“Go to the Legislature and you are given 30 seconds,” he said.

Another factor that has given taxpayers pause is a comment card rule under consideration. The proposal would require that

members of the public submit comment cards at least five minutes before the meeting.

Dan Garrett III, an attorney who has appeared on behalf of Baton Rouge school boards, said BESE committee debates sometimes

spark interest in testifying.

“This (comment cards) seems designed solely to stifle public comment,” Garrett told the Advocate.

Comment cards and time limitations are

unfortunate necessities to maintain some order and decorum at public

meetings. However,

there should be a happy medium set out that allows public input on

vital issues that affect elementary and secondary education

in Louisiana.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.