The Marion County School Board will hold one of its two monthly board meetings at 9 a.m. in hopes of attracting more parents and community members who work evenings.
Until Tuesday evening’s vote, all official school board meetings were held at 5:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. Working sessions are held at 9 a.m. on the Thursday preceding a school council meeting.
Superintendent of Schools Dianne Gullett will return to the board to find out if the early meeting will be held on the second or fourth Tuesday, said board chairman Eric Cummings.
The new schedule, which will run from June 28 to September 27, is only a pilot project. This means that three or four meetings will take place at 9 a.m., and then the board will decide whether or not to continue the pilot project until mid-November, when the 2023 board meeting schedule will be set.
The only board member who was not in favor of the pilot program was Don Browning, who was appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis in August. Browning said he was a night owl and went to bed at 3:30 a.m. some days.
“I really believe that consistency is important,” Browning noted. “It is traditional for school board meetings to be held in the evening and I think we are making a big mistake if we change that. It’s just hard to get people here.”
The idea was first suggested by Nancy Thrower, who originally suggested that the two evening school board meetings be moved to an even earlier start time. She even suggested meeting times at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m.
Thrower said she liked the compromise after thinking about the pros and cons.
“My intention was to provide more access, and having both meetings in the morning probably would have shut out people who were able to come, so I think that worked really well,” Thrower said.
Board member Kelly King, who seems to prefer nighttime meetings, said she was open to seeing how the pilot program works.
“Nancy seems really interested in trying it out,” King said. “I said, ‘Yeah, let’s try. We will try it until the end of September to see if it really works for our community.”
Cummings said his main concern is that the council will take up valuable time during the workday of district administrators, who say daytime meetings will take up more time on tasks that need to be done during the day.
Board member Allison Campbell said she doesn’t think the new times will encourage more people to come to meetings, but “as a mother, it certainly frees up time in my evenings, and it’s is a definite advantage.
Joe Callahan can be reached at (352) 817-1750 or [email protected]