By Dave Fidlin

Correspondent

The Whitewater Unified School Board could make changes to a pair of disparate district policies – one pertaining to public comment at meetings, the other on outside groups’ use of facilities.

Administrators and elected officials discussed the policies Oct. 25. The documents remain in a draft state and are being forwarded on to the district’s Policy Committee for further deliberation.

On the surface, few changes are anticipated with the board’s policy on public comment. A dedicated portion at the beginning of the agenda would be dedicated to hearing feedback from parents and residents throughout the district, which is the current case.

Speakers would have the opportunity to share their thoughts on anything district-related, regardless of whether it is or is not a topic on the agenda.

However, the board might not allow public comment later on in the agenda as officials deliberate and act on specific items. In the past, the board has offered public feedback during specific agenda items, including last year’s hot-button policies related to school closures and face mask requirements.

Superintendent Caroline Pate-Hefty said at the Oct. 25 meeting the change reflects a broader statement on the purpose of board meetings.

“This is a meeting in public,” Pate-Hefty said. “This is not a public meeting.”

School Board President Casey Judd offered similar comments on the philosophy behind the change.

“The public is not a part of it,” Judd said, referring to the deliberations process of specific agenda items. “They get to be here, but they can’t be a part of the discussions.”

Not everyone on the board, however, favored the changes at face value. Multiple board members, including Larry Kachel, voiced concerns that the changes could lead to unintended consequences.

“We are elected by the taxpayers,” Kachel said. “I like the way things have been.”

The board also wrangled over several policies broadly related to use of school facilities, indoor and outdoor. While WUSD already has on its books policies related to outside groups’ use of district venues, some of the language could be refined, as could the fee schedule.

Several board members expressed concern with not opening the school facilities – which are considered a community asset, while others favored the fees and policies to protect and preserve district-owned property.

“There’s a line that has to be drawn somewhere,” board member Thayer Coburn said.

Pate-Hefty said a review of surrounding districts’ policies and rental fee schedules was conducted before the draft documents were presented.

If the district continues offering the rental fees, as proposed, according to Pate-Hefty, “They are lower than any of the surrounding districts.”

Board finalizes 2021-22 school year budget, levy

In other business, the board on Oct. 25 adopted WUSD’s budget and property tax levy. The motions come as the district prepares to send its certified levy figures to municipal clerks in preparation of December tax bills.

WUSD’s total levy this year clocks in at $18.25 million, with the bulk – $12.49 million – going toward day-to-day operations in the general fund. The remaining funds will go toward such purposes as paying down debt and the district’s community fund.

 
 

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