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Board OKs longer time for public comments

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POSTED July 31, 2017 1:22 a.m.

Leo Bennett-Cauchon is no stranger to the lectern at a Manteca Unified Board of Education meeting. 

If there’s an item on the agenda that is of interest to him – there are usually several items – he wastes no time in stepping before the board, presenting his concerns or making his comments and even using the digital board packet as a guide to highlight his concerns with a visual aid.

So, when fellow teachers were compiling comments to the board earlier this month about the status of kindergarten classroom aides and struggling with meeting the three-minute limit on public comments, Bennett-Cauchon proposed a change to allow for more time to hear from the public. 

His plea worked. 

Last week the Board of Education approved a change that will allow those who speak during public comment a five-minute window while keeping comments on all other items on the board agenda at the designated three-minutes – a sort of compromise that Bennett-Cauchon, who has threatened in the past to submit comment cards on every single item on the agenda, was satisfied with. 

“I think the message this sends is that the public will remain in public education,” Bennett-Cauchon said. “The board was responsive that the public values their time and ability to speak and that’s what public comment is supposed to be about – it’s the opportunity where you can speak about anything that concern you. 

“That’s valuable, important time and the board heard that message and is giving it back to the community.”

The right to limit public comment to only 20 minutes remains on the books, meaning that the new policy may only allow four people to speak during that portion of the meeting if the board chooses to exercise that right.

Bennett-Cauchon said that he was taking time away to spend with his family when the suggestion was made to him that perhaps the three-minute allotment wasn’t enough, and while he wasn’t able to speak at the meeting on a topic in which he helped advise, he was grateful that the board was receptive enough to hear his request and by offering a compromise. 

And he didn’t even have to make good on previous suggestions that he would speak on every item on the agenda – which can sometimes include dozens of individual actions. 

“I think that public comment brings issues to the attention of the board, and not every request ends up on the agenda,” he said. “These are often passionate items, and it’s good that the information gets aired in a public forum.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email jcampbell@mantecabulletin.com or call 209.249.3544. 

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