Three cheers for the Carroll County Board of Education. After years of pleading by citizens, the board has agreed to hold meetings at night until May, when it will decide whether to continue the practice. We hope that other county government boards, commissions and officials follow the school board's example.
Citizen participation is essential in a democracy, yet the school board's former practice of holding public meetings during daytime hours excluded large segments of the population who could not afford to take time off from work or school. Only people who didn't work, were retired or were able to take time off from their jobs could attend the daytime school board meetings.
In November 1993, the board held one of its regular monthly meetings at night as an experiment. Board members who opposed night meetings deemed the attendance unsatisfactory, and the group returned to its regular practice of scheduling monthly meetings at 9 a.m. The board has generally held night meetings in the past to discuss the budget and redistricting.
Enter new board member C. Scott Stone.
For two years, he campaigned for night school board meetings, but the majority of his colleagues declined to go along. After this fall's election, he solicited and received support from newly elected member Gary V. Bauer. Incumbent Joseph D. Mish, who also wanted the school board to meet at night, provided the vote necessary for the measure to pass.
Current board president Ann M. Ballard and former president Carolyn L. Scott are skeptical. They don't believe the public turnout will be any larger at night.
But the size of the audience should not be the criteria for scheduling board meetings. The appropriate standard is maximizing the opportunity for the public to observe and participate.
Splitting the meeting into two sections -- an afternoon session for routine bureaucratic business, an evening session for public issues -- makes sense; it will spare the public from sitting through the minutiae of school administration. Now the public will have a better opportunity to see its school board in action. With education issues at the forefront of the public's interest, residents ought to make every effort to attend the board's monthly meetings.