School Board Lets The Public Speak


The School Board today tentatively approved allowing the public to speak at their workshop meetings.

Workshops are where much of the work of the Board is done. Previously the public was forbidden to speak at the meetings.

The public was allowed to speak at regular School Board meetings, which in many cases is too late to influence decisions.   Issues are usually hammered out at a workshop and just rubber stamped at these regular meetings.

The move to expand public participation was proposed by Board Member Robin Bartleman and backed by approximately a dozen speakers at today’s meeting.

Here is an earlier version of this story:



Robin Bartleman is quickly becoming my favorite School Board member.

Last week, she voted to hire a General Council who had no connection to the regime of former chief lawyer Ed Marko.  It was a break with the disreputable past.

This week she wants to change policy so that the Board has to listen to the public more often.

I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong to call for her defeat when the highly critical Grand Jury report on the schools was released earlier this year.

Bartleman is proving she is different from most other Board members. She learned her lesson.

The public is currently excluded from speaking at workshop meetings of the School Board.

This policy is outrageous!  Most of the decisions are made at workshop meetings.

Bartleman agrees with me and many parent activists. She wants to change the policy and allow the public to speak up to three minutes at each workshop meeting.

She is right. It is about time that average folks take part in deciding policy at every meeting.

After all, it is average folks who pay the bills.



Robin Bartleman is bringing forward an agenda item to allow the public to speak at School Board workshops. It is specially set to be heard at 1:30 p.m.

For years the Board has increasingly used workshops as a venue to discuss important School Board business.  They “give direction”, “reach consensus” and take other actions, that while technically not an official vote, set the course for future decision making.  All of this is done without the benefit of input, opinion or information from the public/community.  Several Board chairs have said that they were going to end this practice but, as of the last workshop, the public was still not allowed to speak.

Over the years, I have sat in the workshops and observed the frustration of communities as they watched a discussion that affected their future and were not allowed to comment or offer information that might alter the outcome.  Just recently, when Mrs. Bartleman announced she was gong to bring the issue of public input forward, it was stated there actually is no policy preventing the public from speaking.  The next week I sat in a workshop, again unable to speak.

Ending the lack of public input at Board Workshops is critically important if communities are to be heard.  It is also an important part of changing the culture of the School Board and enhancing the transparency that ensures better business practices.


16 Responses to “School Board Lets The Public Speak”

  1. Sunrise Parent says:

    This is long overdue. The former Board didn’t want to hear from the public. They listened at regular Board meeting,however thedecisions had been made already at workshops by that time.

  2. Floridan says:

    This is a time waster; most of those who speak are going to be “regulars” whose opinions are already well-known.

    The truth is that if you really want to influence board decisions (as opposed to grandstanding) make an appointment and meet the board members one-on-one.

    Do you think the lobbyists wait for the meeting to get their point across? Speaking at the meeting, unless there is new information to convey, is for amateurs and attention-seekers.

  3. Not quite says:

    Don’t give her that much credit. Have you seen the new AG opinion which states School Boaards must let the public speak at workshops?

    I haven’t seen such an opinion.

    Court decisions have repeatedly stated that the public does not have an unlimited right to participate in meetings. See the following from the Attorney General’s website:

    “The Supreme Court has indicated that there may not be a right under s. 286.011, F.S., for a member of the public to participate in all meetings. See Wood v. Marston, 442 So. 2d 934, 941 (Fla. 1983), in which the Court, in reviewing the activities of a committee carrying out executive functions traditionally conducted without public input, stated:

    ‘This Court recognizes the necessity for the free exchange of ideas in academic forums, without fear of governmental reprisal, to foster deep thought and intellectual growth. . . . We hasten to reassure respondents that nothing in this decision gives the public the right to be more than spectators.’

    And see Law and Information Services v. City of Riviera Beach, 670 So. 2d 1014, 1016 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996), citing Marston for the principle that the public does not have a right to speak on all issues prior to resolution of the issue by the board; and Homestead-Miami Speedway, LLC. v. City of Miami, 828 So. 2d 411 (Fla. 3d DCA 2002) (city did not violate Sunshine Law where there was public participation and debate in some but not all of the meetings concerning a proposed contract). Cf. Inf. Op. to Thrasher, January 27, 1994; and Inf. Op. to Conn, May 19, 1987 (if a committee or board is carrying out legislative responsibilities, the public should be afforded a meaningful opportunity to participate at each stage of the decision-making process, including workshops

    Recently, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed a lower court ruling holding that while the Sunshine Law requires meetings to be open to the public, the law does not give the public the right to speak at the meetings. Stating that in the absence of any case construing the phrase “open to the public” to grant the public the right to speak and relying on the “clear and unambiguous language” in Marston, the court stated it was “not inclined” to broadly construe the phrase as granting a right to speak at a meeting of a not-for-profit corporation charged by the city with overseeing development of a parcel of public waterfront property. Keesler v. Community Maritime Park Associates, Inc., 32 So. 3d 659 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010), appeal pending, No. SC10-910 (Fla. May 14, 2010). And see Grapski v. City of Alachua, 31 So. 3d 193 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010), appeal pending, No. SC10-798 (Fla. April 20, 2010) (citizens have authority to attend open meeting but not to participate in or interfere with decision-making process).

  4. Stephanie Kraft says:

    Kudos to Robin! There were a few of us on the “old board” that wanted the workshops televised and public input allowed. Now workshops are video streamed and they are (hopefully) going to allow public input. This is a great change!

    I had suggested, when I was on the board, that for issues where they knew or expected a lot of public input, they hold a special public hearing on that issue, but that idea, while written in the changed policy, never actually was implemented.

    To board members who fear that their workshops will be bogged down, I again suggest, for issues where you are expecting a lot of public input, only put that item on, or hold a special public hearing (at night when the public can come) to hear their input.

    One final suggestion–while video streaming workshops is a good first step, putting them on the radio would be even better. Sometimes, even people who own computers may not have access to their computers during the times the workshops are on. Putting them on the radio would allow people to listen while running errands, picking up kids, etc.

  5. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    To Mrs.Kraft(old shool bd.) you and some others are why we are in the mess we are in. Here you go again. You do realize that if these charges stick you are going up the river. So here you are blogging away huh? Not a care in the world. Boy oh boy are you in for a bumby ride(fasten your seat belt -your going to need it). Although let the hubby take the heat. As far as public input, let them speak. i mean is the 3 minutes that important to some of you. I’ll tell you why they don’t like hearing from the public is they know most of us know what is going on and are not going to take it. Best foot forward so far is letting Notter go. And this is what Att. General ‘s policy about public input. You(AG) my dear are in for one rude awakening. Oh its coming.

  6. S only says:

    Why not both? video streaming AND radio. Miami-Dade county broadcasts on radio.

  7. Quite says:

    To “Not Quite”

    AG opinions are just opinions, not binding, so the Board wouldn’t have to follow it. Besides, since when does the Board do something because they should?

    I still say kudos to Robin for bringing it forward as an agenda item. Although the board talked about doing this for years, no one actually has made it happen until now.

  8. Tomas says:

    I believe Ms. Bartleman also voted to fire that deadwood Frank Till, the man responsible for not doing anything about construction corruption.

  9. Hammerhead says:

    Come on Robin, keep up the pressure tomorrow. All the people need is a reason to believe that change can happen. You can be on the razor’s edge and lead the way in restoring the public’s trust.

    You have to get rid of the dead weight in Williams, Dinnen and Murray and you simply must distance yourself from JenJen.

    If you want a positive legacy, the opportunity has been dropped in your lap. I know a lot of people are pulling for you. You can make history and redeem all perceptions at the same time. If you can do that, I will seperate you from Gallagher and Kraft in my own mind.

  10. Git R Done says:

    @ Hammerhead…
    Don’t you know by now that Bartleman is BEST FRIENDS with JenJen?
    So, that ain’t gonna happen telling her to distance herself from JenJen…
    They’re also very close to Barbara Miller and Neil Sterling, so where are you going to go with this?

  11. Harold Ditmore says:

    To Floridan:

    The hallmark of good government is listening to The People. To redress your government, to speak to the representatives personally and tell them what you believe is perhaps the most valuable part of our system. Just ask the people in Egypt or China if they would like that right.
    It is too bad that you think this right is a “time waster”.

  12. Go away says:

    The fact that Stephanie Kraft continues to try to rehabilitate herself through self serving blog posts is laughable. Mrs. Kraft you were one of if not the leading cause of the cancer that has spread through the school board and got us in the position we are in today. Please spare us.

  13. Go Away Go Away says:

    Kraft has a unique point of view as a former School Board member. I would like to hear from her. The public is smart enough to judge whether her comments are just an attempt to rehabilitate herself.

  14. Jeanne Jusevic says:

    The District Advisory Council has been pushing this idea for well over 5 years now both at school board meetings and behind the scenes. We are happy that there will be a full discussion regarding this issue. This isn’t new, but the timing is finally right for this kind of change.

  15. Floridan says:

    My point, Ditmore, is that 90 percent of the audience participation at most board/commission meetings do nothing to move an issue forward. Usually, they are off topic, duplicative of previous statements or angry rants from a few grandstanding “regulars.”

    I’ve got nothing against public participation — they are often entertaining for the audience and, I guess, cathartic for the speaker.

    I still say, if you want to show off, speak at the commission meeting; if you want to change policy, speak to elected officials and staff prior to the meeting.

  16. To Git R Done says:

    To Git R Done:
    Robin and Jen used to be “best friends”, at least Robin thought they were. If you’ve listened to SB meetings over the past few years, you’d see they are not any more. Jen Jen has no patience with Robin and is sometimes not very nice to her, and Robin is not happy about how she is treated.