I Spoke Too Soon ….

Six months ago, I posted an article praising an action of the Fairfax County School Board.  SeeFairfax School Board Acts to Streamline Its Meetings.”  As it turns out, I was too quick to find a silver lining in the Board’s pattern of making its meetings unfriendly to the public.  At its recent meeting on September 28, the Board  reversed the positive action it took in the Spring.

School Board Meetings Are Unwelcoming for the Public

The current School Board has taken several actions in recent years to make public participation as unfriendly as possible.  For example, it has altered how the cameras view citizen speakers at Board meetings.  Instead of shooting them from the front, as before, speakers are now filmed from a camera at the rear of the auditorium, showing only the backs of their heads from a distance.  Then, when the FCPS speakers take the podium, a front, close-up camera is used.  The sole reason for this difference is to depersonalize the citizen speakers and to dampen the effect of their comments.

Some citizens attempted to reduce the adverse impact of the distant, back-of-the-head camera by having a friend come forward to the front row of the auditorium while they were speaking, using their cellphones to film them from the side.  So what did the Board do?  It adopted a yet another regulation, requiring everyone but the speaker to remain in their seats so that this filming couldn’t occur.

This is just one example of how the current Board has shown its disdain for the public.  It has also restricted public participation by reducing the speaking time from three minutes to two, and by adopting restrictive rules for being able to speak at meetings.

One of the most annoying and user-unfriendly aspects of Board meetings involves how they are conducted.  Every meeting begins with resolutions to recognize calendar events, interest groups and/or particular individuals. Typically wordy, with many whereas clauses, each resolution is read, and each Board member then has an opportunity to express his or her support before the always-unanimous vote is taken.  Interested individuals are then asked to come up for photo ops.  Board members rarely forego the opportunity to virtue-signal with their remarks.  So, if three resolutions are introduced at a meeting, and each of the twelve Board members speaks in support of each one, two hours can easily be consumed.  In the meantime, members of the public who are hoping to hear about serious business are forced to cool their heels.  Although the meetings are usually scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm, it is often 9:00 pm or later before anything of substance occurs.

At a meeting in June, when two important issues were on the agenda (adoption of an “Equity Policy” and an increase in the salaries of Board members), I persuaded two neighbors to attend the meeting with me.  The substantive matters weren’t voted on until after midnight.  My neighbors understandably said their first Board meeting would be their last.

A Modest Reform Earlier This Year

The number of resolutions proliferated over time, as Board members added more and more of them to cater to their constituencies.  Also, Board members competed with one another over who would read the annually-recurring resolutions, so as to get the credit for currying favor with the recognized groups.

Some members realized this process was getting out of hand, so a task force was set up to reduce the number of resolutions and shorten the time spent in discussing them.  In April, the Board took a positive step by adopting the task force’s recommendations.  It created two categories of resolutions: “proclamations,” which would be limited in number and which would be supported by speeches in the ordinary way, and “recognitions,” which would be read at the meeting but not discussed or voted on.  Twenty-four annually-recurring resolutions were moved to the “recognition” category, meaning there wouldn’t be time consuming speeches to support them.  Also, many of the recognitions would now be read by the Superintendent, the Student Representative or the vice-chair of the Board so as to eliminate the in-fighting over who would present them at the public meeting.

Although I felt that the number of permitted “proclamations” was still too large, and that too much time would still be consumed by this process, I applauded the reforms in the article cited above, because it promised to streamline the Board meetings somewhat.

The Reform Didn’t Last Long

Board members began resisting the limited reforms almost immediately.  At a meeting in June, the Board adopted an amendment that somewhat expanded the number of permissible “proclamations.”  The Board then started ignoring the distinction between “proclamations” and “recognitions,” giving speeches in favor of both categories.

This culminated in another revision of the rules at the Board’s September 28 meeting.  The principal change was to eliminate the distinction between “proclamations” and “recognitions.”  Thus, the Board will now go back to its practice of reading lengthy motions, speechifying and voting on each and every resolution to honor calendar events, interest groups and individuals.  In addition, the motions will now again be presented by Board members rather than by the Superintendent, Student Representative or  Vice Chair.

The new rule lists 36 annually-recurring proclamations/recognitions.  In addition, there is an open-ended category for honoring retiring leadership staff members.  And, in addition to that, each of the twelve Board members can bring forward two more proclamations/recognitions, for a total of 24 more.  Thus, there can now be 60+ of these time-consuming exercises at Board meetings each year.

The September 28 meeting also illustrates the non-productive manner in which the Board spends much of its time.  The discussion of this issue consumed an hour at the meeting.  I invite readers of this article to view this portion of the meeting for themselves HERE., starting at  2:37:28 on the time-stamp for the meeting.  If you can resist tearing your hair out while you listen to this wasteful exercise, you have the patience of Job.

In summary, sad to say, I must retract the kudos I extended to the Board in the article cited above.

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  1. Emma Barbosa on October 6, 2023 at 4:21 pm

    Thank you for this insight!!

  2. J Mosby on October 6, 2023 at 7:35 pm

    Am not surprised. This board has no respect for either parents or taxpayers because it does not fear either one.