Calls for transparency continue at Brandywine school board meeting

Published 12:15 pm Tuesday, April 11, 2023

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NILES CHARTER TOWNSHIP — Brandywine Board of Education members heard another call for transparency at a brief special meeting held Monday night in the Brandywine High School gym.

About 30 residents attended the meeting and only two people spoke during the two public comment periods at the start and end of the meeting. The agenda initially just had one public comment period to be held after a closed session but that was changed to before the closed session and then another was added at the start of the meeting.

Having more opportunities to offer public comment has been an issue at meetings since the start of the year. Board members began offering two rather than one public comment period about a month ago. They also began scheduling one of the public comment periods at the start of the meeting to allow people to comment on agenda items before action.

Monday, resident Ryan Adams spoke in the first comment period about the scheduling of meetings. The board has changed its meeting schedule this year to have one meeting each month for regular business and one for committee meetings.

“You’ve changed the scheduling again and it seems to be creating some confusion,” he said. “I hope you put something in place where notices for meetings are posted in a consistent manner.”

Monday, board members made one meeting schedule change. They moved the April 24 regular board meeting from the high school gym to the nearby high school auxiliary gym because of a conflict. Superintendent Travis Walker said that the gym has already been booked for that day by an outside entity for a training exercise that cannot be changed.

Adams talked again during the end of the meeting comment period.

“I want to express my thanks to the teachers and the staff, I know it’s been a tough couple of months for them,” he said. 

Resident Jennifer Unger also spoke in support of the district staff who she called “trained professionals” doing their best for students.  

Unger did express concern however about the board’s inaction in getting committees up and running. 

“I’m very concerned that you are still not having committees,” she said. “The school year is going to end and I have no trust that committees are going to be formed.”         

She noted that people have signed up to serve on committees but have not been contacted about any meetings. 

“I want to know that the correct procedures are being followed and I need to see action to have that trust,” she said. 

The school board established several committees in January, including ones for curriculum, tutoring, parent/community involvement, parent/guardian curriculum transparency and explicit material book review. In addition, the board created a sex education advisory board and an executive committee. 

The board meeting schedule approved by the board in mid-March had initially designated Monday’s meeting as a committee meeting but it was changed to a “special meeting” because the committees have not been formed as initially was anticipated, Superintendent Travis Walker said. 

While Board President Thomas Payne said in March that the committees had been formed and committee chairs selected, Walker said Tuesday that the committees have in fact not been established as it was discovered that board policy designates committees involving community members as being citizen advisory committees. 

Walker said a discussion will be held at the April 24 board meeting on how to move forward with the committees the board established in January. He said that such a discussion has to be held in open session. 

The board policy states that board members can be on the citizen advisory committees but cannot be the chairs. The policy also currently states that the committees do their work and present their report to the board when they’re finished. 

Payne is one of four new board members taking office in January. Meetings since January have often been contentious with residents and teachers opposed to changes being made such as the establishment of the committees. 

The only other action item at Monday’s meeting was to hire Terry Borr as a track coach for the spring 2023 season. The meeting ended with the board going into closed session to discuss security updates and give the new board members a briefing on the district’s safety procedures and protocols. 

Walker noted that the district hired a school resource officer for the 2021-22 school year and received a state grant this year to pay for half the cost of hiring another one. He said the goal is to have that second school resource officer in place for the 2023-24 school year.