Meetings of the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District will resume this week after a summer lull and while the topics of discussion are of no surprise, public speakers hoping to give their input will have to adapt to a new set of rules. 

Members of the public wishing to comment on agenda items at tomorrow’s School Board meeting will be asked to do so towards the beginning of the meeting rather than wait for the item to come up for discussion.

The school district announced Tuesday that it will begin piloting this new comment structure for School Board meetings as well as institute a six minute speaking limit beginning at the upcoming Sept. 1 meeting. 

Board members discussed the changes at their meeting on July 21.

“I think that there is benefit to our public, to our community for people to be able to know that they can tune in at six o’clock, or whatever time it is, and be able to speak to the item on the agenda,” said Board Member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein. 

Board Member Laurie Lieberman said she understood the rationale for trying to make board meetings more accessible for those who can’t or don’t want to sit through multiple-hour long sessions to speak, but was still skeptical of the proposed changes. 

“I strongly feel that we’ll need to evaluate whether the upside is worth the downside, because if I was a member of the public -which I once was and will be again- I would rather speak when the item was before the board,” she said. 

The board approved piloting the changes earlier this year and decided to evaluate them in Dec. 2022, to determine if they have increased efficiency and effectiveness of meetings. 

This comment structure is already used by other school districts and municipalities. The six minute time limit is also in place elsewhere, including Santa Monica City Council meetings. 

General public comments about topics not included in the board’s agenda will still be heard at the end of the meeting. Individuals wanting to speak in-person at meetings are required to submit a public speaking card and those wishing to comment virtually must fill out a Google form, which can be found on the SMMUSD website.

Among the items on the agenda for the Sept. 1 meeting is a discussion on mental health programs for SMMUSD students. School district staff will provide an update to board members about the state of current programs being offered throughout the district as well as data from the 2021-2022 school year regarding the number of students who received counseling and the outcomes. There will be a specific focus on the Community Schools program at Samohi and the district-wide needs assessment being conducted in partnership with the LA County Office of Education, which will be completed this fall. 

Also on the agenda are updates on several facility improvement projects, the awarding of an agreement to repair the water damage at the Muir/SMASH campus and the adoption of a resolution to designate Sept. 15 – Oct. 15 as Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, among others. The full agenda can be viewed on the SMMUSD website. 

The public meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m., following the closed session which begins at 4:30 p.m.

grace@smdp.com