Saturday, July 08, 2006

Grove City School Board Considers Limiting Free Speech, Part Two

Here's a great Butler Eagle letter to the editor from Jason Reeher (also posted as a comment under my previous Free Speech Attack entry):
GC 'notice' plan is wrong

If there is a way to limit free speech, the Grove City School Board will find it. A recent policy proposal would limit citizens' participation at board meetings, requiring a seven-day advance notice on the subject to be discussed. The intent of this outrageous policy is clear: the board is attempting to stem a swelling tide of public criticism.

This strategy of limiting public participation is not surprising. This is, after all, a school board that has over the last two years engaged in such acts as ignoring state audit recommendations, skirting the Sunshine Act and firing a good teacher for no apparent reason. The board also has the unpopular habit of raising taxes and cutting student programs to pay for administrative raises.

The seven-day notification of intent to speak at a public meeting is an assault on free speech rights. Residents have no idea what the school board will be addressing until we see the agenda for that evening's meeting.

The proposed policy would prevent any citizen from speaking against an agenda item. This is a crucial consideration: If you were to attend a board meeting and saw that the board was planning that evening to raise taxes or fire a teacher or reinstate districtwide corporal punishment, you would be permitted to say nothing.

Residents should be appalled.

Why is the school board requiring a seven-day advance notice of potential criticism? Can you imagine the Lincoln-Douglas debates under such a rule? "I'd love to address your concerns about slavery — can you give me a week and I'll get back to you?"

The Grove City board's proposal is a disgusting abuse of power and an affront to residents.

Obviously, board president Rath is trying to shield her fellow members from criticism before the next election. Why else have the policy? It has never been needed. Rarely do citizens even show up for the school board meetings. When they do show up and try to speak against board policy, the board members and administration become openly hostile. A couple members have broken into temper tantrums in the recent past. One member laughs at citizens' concerns.

The board has a lot for which to answer, but limiting free speech will only help fuel the opposition. 2007 should be fun....


Jason Reeher said...

I agree with Rich: this policy will make it very easy to defeat the five candidates who are up for reelection next year. This is a board that has made bad decisions on key issues: raising taxes, cutting student programs, giving away administrative raises, and now, apparently, limiting free speech. Voters have had enough.

One concern that the district should have is that of a costly lawsuit. Groups like the ACLU are just itching to battle restrictions in free speech like the GC policy proposal. Worse, the district has only Tim 'The Absentee Solicitor' on its side; he rarely even attends board meetings and would likely be woefully prepared for a civil rights suit. (I have heard from one angry resident who vows to file a complaint as soon as the board passes the new policy.)

As usual, the unintended consequences of yet another bad board policy will have a ripple effect that will end up hurting the students, reducing input from parents and resources for the kids.

Anonymous said...

GC board has taken most of its criticism on tax hikes. From the Sharon Herald, a recent article says

"About three-quarters of the 111 districts kept their property-tax increases at or below the rate of inflation, avoiding a school budget referendum in the spring, according to the state Education Department.

Only one school district, Bristol Township in Bucks County, had to seek voter approval for its spending plan. Twenty-six other districts were allowed to raise taxes beyond the rate of inflation without asking voters because they won exemptions for special circumstances that allowed them to exceed the cap, such as growth in special-education or health-insurance costs.

In suburban Bristol Township, voters defeated a proposed 6.6 percent tax increase by a 7-to-1 margin in May. "

This would indicate that voters would likely never approve a tax hike of any size. That's why the comments of The Pennsylvania School Boards Association spokesman Scott Shewell are so bizaree: “The bottom line is, school boards have always been prudent fiscal managers."

Right. And in other news, crack addicts are prudent managers of crack...