School boards can no longer limit the number of speakers they hear

Open-government advocates are applauding a new law (HB2840) that now requires school boards and other local governing bodies to allow everyone who wants to weigh in on an item on the body’s agenda to speak before or during the board’s consideration of the issue and before the board votes. Previously, school boards could limit the number of speakers during a meeting and schedule those opposed to an administration proposal to speak after a vote already had been taken.

The law presumably was well-intentioned, but it is too early to determine how effective it will be in opening up public participation before school boards, city councils and other governing bodies. Austin ISD, for example, dropped its long-standing 30-person limit for public speakers at its board meetings but cut the amount of time each speaker can address the board in half, from two minutes to one.

Showing up in large numbers to speak for or against an agenda item before a school board can be important. Packing a meeting room certainly can command a board’s attention. But equally important for TSTA locals are the organizing efforts outside the board room and making sure that the members who do address a board are knowledgeable about the issues.

Early voting will begin Oct. 21.