Community members looking to speak at Board of Education meetings for the Smithtown Central School District will now have less time to do so as the board adopted a policy change reducing speaking time from five minutes to three.
The vote was approved four votes in favor to three votes in opposition.
Board President Gladys Waldron, Vice President Theresa Knox and members Joanne McEnroy and Grace Plourde voted in favor of the change. Members Joseph Saggese, Louis Liguori and Christopher Alcure voted in opposition.
“This constricts the voice of the community,” Saggese said prior to the vote. “It has very detrimental effects in really censoring the community.”
“It’s difficult enough for people to come to the podium and express themselves within the five minute restraints … I’m not here to clock-watch the community,” added Liguori.
McEnroy said prior to the meeting she performed her own research on the time permitted for the community to speak at neighboring districts and found of the 16 districts she polled, a majority permit less than five minutes to speak, some allowing as low as two minutes per speaker.
“This policy is not suggesting something that is out of line with the surrounding communities,” she said.
Plourde said she fears five minutes per speaker does not allow all parents to speak, some of which have to leave meetings early to get their kids ready for school the next day.
“I’m concerned that in the middle of a bunch of people speaking on the same topic there may be people towards the end of the list who never get up there to speak about something else and I’m afraid we’re shutting that portion down,” she said.
Community members who signed up to speak at the meeting immediately blasted the decision to change the minutes.
“For nine years it’s been five minutes, even when we were opening two high schools it was five minutes, it was five minutes back at High School West – no issues. Now all of a sudden we have BOCES pensioners on the board, we’ve got STA pensioners on the board, and it’s three minutes,” said frequent speaker at board meetings Pam Farino.