LA school board to streamline meetings

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By Tris DeRoma

Education is one thing and construction is another, according to the Los Alamos School Board’s new president, Jim Hall.

In an effort to streamline board meetings and put more focus on educational topics, Hall and the rest of the board have opted to have meetings that focus solely on education issues and then have meetings on the ongoing construction taking place at the Los Alamos Middle School and Aspen Elementary School on another day. 

The board has also opted to select and group “routine” items from the regular agenda and put them into a consent agenda so they can treat the group as one item.

“First, the decision to add a separate construction meeting will enable us to spend appropriate time on educational issues. ...Second, we need to make all regular meetings as efficient as possible. I think one way to increase our efficiency would be more pre-work: both on our parts and the staff’s. My suggestion is to use the consent agenda to a much greater extent than we have in the past,” Hall said in a March 25 memo to the LAPS Board.

At a March 28 school board work session, when it came to using a more robust consent agenda, a few people had questions and concerns; specifically about public access. 

“So this would take most of the finance issues, the routine approval of finance issues and move them into a consent agenda, where if the board had questions we would ask them offline and receive answers offline and if they were satisfied with that then the consent agenda would then be approved and blocked without public dissection as we’ve done in the past,” said board member and former board president Kevin Honnell. 

“...My comment was that there may be a few members of the public that might enjoy listening to this. So as a compromise, that if we pursued that path, if the questions and answers could be appended as an appendix to the minutes so the members of the public could review that at their leisure and it wouldn’t take up real meeting time.”

Hall, after remarking that the board member’s emails are already available under the Freedom of Information Act, said he would have no objections to Honnell’s idea.

Ellen Mills, president of the Los Alamos Federation of School Employees, LAFSE Local #3902 expressed her concerns too.

“I’m concerned about the public’s perception of potentially limiting access or limiting discussion for public presentation,” Mills said. “I’m all for more efficient meetings, but I think there’s a significant amount of attention from the public about finances, and that is exactly what we’re talking about.

“...As you know, I’ve sat through many meetings to listen to the dialogue and many of the questions I might have as I look through the board packet indeed get asked by one of the board members. And so that would be my concern is that the public perception is that you might be limiting their opportunity to be part of this process.”

Board member David Foster also added that maybe if the public had a direct way of requesting that something be taken off the consent agenda for public discussion.

Hall said he did not object to that either. The board then elected to try out their new system within the next few months. 

When it came to separating construction issues from education issues and holding meetings for each on different days, scheduling and time constraints became the main concerns, as the suggestions settled on having construction meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon. 

“If we have them at lunch, the meetings have to have an end,” said board member Matt Williams. “They can’t go on indefinitely and the other things we need to consider our own reps and construction reps ... those people are busy also.”

Honnell said it’s always been easier for him to work outside his regular work hours, so there wasn’t an issue with lateness.

Judy Bjarke-McKenzie also brought up the fact that the construction on the middle school will soon be over, and that fact may go a long way toward cutting down on the length of an average board meeting. 

She also said that even with the upcoming construction to be done on Aspen Elementary School, the board may have so much experience from managing the middle school project that they may not have to divide construction and education issues into separate meetings.

At the end of the session, to accommodate the required 72-hour public notice the board opted to hold construction meetings on Thursdays from 4 to 6 p.m., after the regularly scheduled Tuesday board meetings.

Bjarke-McKenzie welcomed the new schedule, saying that it will help board members as well as the school students they are supposed to be helping.

Foster said their new strategy will be a win-win situation for all.

“I think it’s excellent that we are putting a priority and a focus on the instructional and financial aspects as a first priority as well as the construction activities,” Foster said.

 “By separating those meetings, we can be more efficient, more focused. It also allows members of the public who are interested in attending to be more selective in what they choose to attend.”

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt thought it was an excellent outcome as well.

“I think it makes a real statement to the community that education has an important place,” Schmidt said. 

“I also think that holding construction meetings at a different time it allows us to just to focus on that. 

“In the past, we tended to have all these things in one night and the meetings tended to go very long. 

“I think the new way will be much more effective.”

The board will be rolling out the new meeting schedule sometime in May.