Op-Ed: Increase Public Speaking Time for SB Unified

By Cheri Rae

Congratulations to Bill Banning for his appointment to the Santa Barbara Unified school board. I expect his considerable experience in education will result in many positive outcomes during his two-year term.

Many of the candidates who applied for the appointment mentioned that there need to be more ways for the public to be engaged, heard, and valued. I agree.

Based on the restriction of public comment during the special meetings to interview candidates, I believe the Board should re-think how, when, and why they decide to limit individual public comment from three minutes to 90 seconds. Board Bylaw 9323 allows three minutes, and a total of 20 minutes for public comment, while allowing for cutting time “depending on the number of comments received.”

There were only three speakers that afternoon, which would have been a total of nine minutes allotted for public comment, far less than the total minutes allowed. I learned that there was a total of five speakers at the previous meeting, also time limited to 90 seconds.

At 90 seconds each, last Thursday the public was allowed a total of just 4.5 minutes to speak. Adding in the 7.5 minutes allowed on the previous interview occasion, the public was allowed a mere twelve minutes over two meetings to weigh in on the critical issue of the appointment of a new school board member for two years. That is far less than the forty minutes allowable.

I completely understand the need to limit comment time when there is an issue that draws many individuals who want to speak. But I fail to see the justification for the imposition of the time limit in this case. Allowing the full three minutes to each speaker would have shown respect and appreciation for public participation. Instead, the opposite occurred.

In preparation for the meeting on Thursday, I carefully crafted and rehearsed my comments at home. I was able to calmly deliver my 447 words within the three minutes allotted..

Arriving early, I filled out a speaker’s slip, and waited to deliver my prepared statement on behalf of the candidate I supported. However, it was only immediately before public comment opened that the 90-second time limit was announced.

I wish I had the presence of mind at the time to ask for a moment to edit my comments, but I did not.

As the first speaker, I skipped through my prepared comments in real time, on camera with half the time I expected. Flustered as I rushed, my statement lacked flow and I overlooked several points I had expected to make. I failed to make a coherent case for my candidate.

Public speaking at an official meeting is stressful at best. Three minutes is a reasonable amount of time to craft succinct and meaningful comments. But at 90 seconds—which allows about 220 words—it is much more challenging to make a powerful statement of support. When it’s a last-minute announcement to eliminate half the words, it’s nearly impossible.

This could serve as a teachable moment resulting in improving the Board’s empathy for, understanding of, and communication with the members of the public who care enough to prepare, participate, and speak at public comment.

In the meantime, the public would be well-advised to prepare two public comment statements in advance, one coming in at 90 seconds and the other at three minutes, depending on what the Board allows at any given time.

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    • Yeah, how dare parents in our local SB and Goleta school districts speak to publicly elected school boards in a public forum about concerns directly impacting their children in a publicly funded school system. Those right-wing fascists are so anti-democratic! (just ignore that restricting public input, particularly input that brings up concerns or criticisms, is the actual fascism).

    • Usually you reserve ” ” to quote something someone actually said. Limiting the amount of time isn’t the issue, but GT’s reason for the issue “the nutso far-right helicopter parents who are afraid of our libraries and drag shows” is the “actual fascism” part – ‘I don’t agree with what they say so they shouldn’t get a chance to say it’. Just ignore that of the many schools board meetings I’ve participated in or listened to, drag shows weren’t discussed – watching a little too much Faux News I think.

    • VoR: What do parents have to be concerned about? Schools aren’t even teaching the full extent of racism throughout US history. They barely mention lynchings and how they were public entertainment throughout the South prior to the civil rights era. Or how about slave owners who frequently raped female slaves then enslaved their own children? Or mortgage redlining, denial of benefits to minority veterans, sharecropping, heck even Carpinteria was segregated by race not too long ago. Sorry if you want your kids to be ignorant and learn about Johnny Appleseed or Paul Revere but eventually we all need to collectively grow up and learn from past mistakes. Sorry you’re triggered by a very basic and incomplete pivot away from whitewashed nonsense that passed for “history” in the past.

  1. What do you expect when liberal puppets are elected into these positions. This is their playbook. Suppress rationale points of view that are opposed to their agenda which from what I can surmise is to lower the education bar to create more takers who rely on government hand outs = more future dem voters. The true “nut jobs” are the parents who support this liberal woke educational ideology.

  2. Actually there is an end. 3 minutes. If it is a 90 second limit, then like minded people should be able to give their 90 second time to the speaker to the negative feedback loop of their choosing. What kind of people want to limit speech to the state incumbent preferred narrative? Fascists. Who says” under the guise of free speech” when there is no guise to free speech, free speech was recognized as a natural right of all humans and was explicitly created to protect unpopular opinions spoken to the narrators of the current preferred narrative

  3. Why should this be a political issue? What if, for example, a liberal parent wants to comment for a decent amount of time on an issue? He/she may need more time right? I don’t give a crap if you’re a Lozano supporter, a Maldonado supporter, or anything else in between. This simply shouldn’t be political issue, as many commenters here are trying to make this out to be. You’re off if you just want to go with this “my way or the Highway” philosophy. Might as well just tell people to shut up and accept whatever comes there way. Why even have a comment period then? Or why even have debates?

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