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Handbook for the School Board Meetings

By Kim Knox

The San Francisco Unified School District's Board chambers have 138 seats. Depending on the meeting, the entire first row and five to eight more seats are reserved for staff members. Another three are reserved for translators.

When a meeting has one or more two hot topics on the agenda, the attendees overflow into the lobby of SFUSD's HQ at 555 Franklin, where approximately 60 additional chairs are set up. If there are more people than seats, the rest have to wait outside in the parking lot or on the front stairs on Franklin Street.

The following items are on the agenda for the Board of Education's meeting on May 10, 2005 — teacher layoffs, school assignments, and military recruitment. Oh yes, the board will also begin to discuss the FY 05-06 budget, which has a $22 million deficit.

But even though four members of the Board of Education wanted to move the May 10 Board of Education meeting to a venue that would allow most if not all of the people attending the meeting to sit in the same room, the school district's administration balked.

It couldn't be that they couldn't find a suitable location. A great deal of the school district’s revenue comes groups renting the auditoriums that are part of almost every school.

It couldn't be that they didn't know whom to call in order to arrange a meeting in one of the schools' auditoriums. The superintendent not only appoints all of the school district's principals; she also appoints the manager who is responsible for real estate in the school district.

After much discussion and delay from the administration, the meeting was finally moved to Everett Middle School, 450 Church.

I understand that it is more difficult for the administration staffers to travel to a meeting outside their offices. But members of the public have to travel from their homes and workplaces to get any meeting that the school district schedules.

I also understand that when people are standing in the dark and cold, they are more likely to go home. While that might shorten the meeting, it deters public participation in an institution that our taxes pay for.

Because of another quaint custom of the school district, if you want to speak at a Board of Education meeting, you need to call before 5 p.m. on the day of a meeting and tell which items you want to be listed to speak about. Since Board of Education meetings are held at 7 p.m. every other Tuesday and the agenda is not posted on SFUSD's website till late the preceding Friday, this means that you only have two days to add your name to the list. In recent weeks, the school district has begun to require prospective speakers to tell not only their name — but also their phone number.

If you are looking for the phone number that allows you to exercise your First Amendment right to speak to the board, you will not find it on SFUSD's website. Nor will you find it on the instruction sheet that appears on the last page of every Board of Education agenda, which tells people that only those who have called prior to the meeting may speak… which doesn't help anyone who is reading the agenda during the actual meeting.

Now, exactly why would the school district's administration make it so difficult to find the number to call in order to be listed as a speaker? Well, it certainly does shorten the meetings.

The following is a public service announcement: in order to use your right to freedom of speech and speak at a San Francisco Board of Education meeting, call (415) 241-6000; ask for Esther in the Board of Education Office.

And best of luck in finding a seat!