Newly reorganized board unanimously approves 2023-24 schedule to include town hall meetings in each trustee district to have more meaningful dialogue with parents
VISALIA – Visalia Unified school board members will each hold three town hall meetings in their trustee districts next school year in an effort to have better communication with parents over issues in the district.
Superintendent Kirk Shrum presented the trustee-led town halls as part of the board’s meeting schedule for the 2023-24 school year during the board’s Dec. 13 meeting. He noted school board meetings are intended to allow the public to see board decisions for transparency but are not the best format to engage with parents and community members who have questions and concerns not on the agenda.
The Brown Act, California’s open meeting law which governs how public board meetings are conducted, requires boards to allow for public comment but prohibits the board from responding to those comments if they are about issues and items not on the agenda for that meeting. The law’s intent is to prohibit the board from discussing issues without the public’s prior knowledge but in many cases is seen by the unbeknownst public as officials being indifferent, uninterested or outright uncaring about their comments. Shrum described the public comment section of the meeting as a one-way communication in which board members are not legally allowed to engage.
“What we’ve heard from our community is that they want more interactive dialogue with the board,” Superintendent Kirk Shrum said.
The school board voted unanimously to adopt the 2023-24 schedule which will allow the staff to focus on student learning and provide community members an opportunity for two-way interaction and to increase opportunities for meaningful dialogue with the community through the public engagement events.
“We know that it is important for our constituents to be heard, but the reality is that most families we serve are not attending [board meetings],” said Walta Gamoian, who was unanimously selected as the new board president at the meeting. Jaqueline Gaebe was unanimously selected to succeed Gamoian as board clerk. “Beginning in the spring, we look forward to new public engagement town hall sessions.”
Each board member will also host three town hall sessions per year in their trustee areas in the fall, winter and spring. The session dates and times will be announced soon. The purpose of these sessions is for each trustee to have focused time with their constituents to discuss the state of the district and to gather feedback from all. Accompanying each member will be district staff to help listen and support with any questions which might arise.
“As a public member who was just recently standing at the podium providing my feedback to the Board, I desired a format which would allow for more engagement,” newly elected trustee Paul Belt commented. “I’m excited that we will have a forum in which it will allow all of us trustees to hear and speak to our constituents in a non-business meeting format.”
The public may also interact with the Board via email; all addresses are listed on the district website (www.vusd.org). The Board also encourages families to engage at their students’ schools, as a way to connect with the district and school board.