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Pittsfield School Committee Aims to Shorten Meeting Times
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
08:09AM / Friday, December 03, 2021
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — School Committee members recognize that meetings can be dramatically long and are looking to change that.

The policy subcommittee on Monday unanimously voted to limit them to three hours with a 2/3 vote needed to extend; to move agenda item 6: School Committee non-agenda participation; 7: approval of minutes from previous meetings, and 8: approval of reports to the end of the agenda; and to remove item 9: school presentations from the agenda.

Mayor Linda Tyer assembled the subcommittee to address the issue of meeting lengths. She said that in the past year, they have sometimes run for four or five hours.

"My real aim here is to shorten the length of meetings to make them meaningful and productive, but not to the point of exhaustion for the committee members," Tyer explained.

"Some of whom have to, including our admin team, our superintendent, and staff who have to get up and be to work in the morning at seven or 8 a.m."

She made the original suggestion that items being voted on are moved to the top of the agenda to avoid members debating on important topics hours in.

While recognizing the importance of hearing from administrators, Tyer cited a former meeting with three notable votes that were preceded by a lengthy portion of presentations on school improvement plans.  

"Those are three items that absolutely demanded our attention, demanded that we be present and focused, but they came at the end of a long stretch of presentation," she said.

Chairwoman Katherine Yon said she has previously looked into the lengths of meetings for surrounding districts and found that they are usually between an hour and a half and three hours.

William Cameron said this is not a new issue, as he has observed school committees grappling with it dating back 30 years when he was elected. He pointed out that the committee voted to have a time limit on meetings as an attempted solution with an option to continue.

Cameron also brought up concern for a lack of media coverage for School Committee meetings and speculated that may be caused by the late-night discussions.

"I'm really concerned as a member of the committee, not just at this subcommittee, but I mean as a member of the committee, generally School Committee is very poorly covered in local media," he said.

"I think that it's not covered because a lot of what we do of substance takes place at 10:30 at night rather than at six o'clock toward the start of the meetings and I think that I think it would serve the public, not just us having to be there for an extended period of time, but it would serve the public, too, if the meetings were shorter."

Nyanna Slaughter said she believes that prospective committee members are also being deterred from participation, stating that she believed meetings would be shorter before she was on the panel.

The subcommittee also discussed streamlining discussion by utilizing subcommittees, similar to how the City Council uses them, and finding a more efficient way to share presentations.

In addition, members agreed that it would be useful to have communications by the chair sent over email rather than being a part of the meetings.

For example, City Council subcommittees will receive a full presentation on an item and then vote to recommend an action that it then sent to the full council for an official vote.  For the most part, this eliminates repeated information.

Superintendent Joseph Curtis suggested utilizing Youtube or Pittsfield Community Television (PCTV) for presentations.

"I think we're losing people and we're losing the press coverage and maybe if we pivot some of these full big presentations to another platform, maybe it would generate more interest," Tyer said.

These three recommendations will go back to the full committee, likely for its Dec. 15 meeting.

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