LARGO — The Pinellas County School Board had a full audience of concerned parents, teachers and community members during its meeting Tuesda, a rare yet fitting occurrence given the meeting’s agenda.
School board members voted unanimously to change the time allotted for public comments from the beginning of their meetings to the end, despite initial concerns the switch would discourage public participation.
Thirteen speakers spoke for up to three minutes on issues ranging from bullying in classrooms to teachers’ large workloads during the half-hour before the 5:30 p.m. meeting began. One more speaker had to be pushed to the end of the meeting so it could begin on time.
However, under the new policy, all open comments that don’t address an agenda item will be at the end of the meetings, which would start a half hour earlier.
Anyone who would like to address specific items on the agenda still may do so during the regular business meeting.
The change initially drew concerns about forcing the public to wait several hours to be heard without a set time to know when to show up.
“It does make me a little concerned because some of us have to travel quite a ways to get here,” Largo resident John Ciani told the board. “It took me about 45 minutes to get here with the traffic, especially during rush hour.”
Public comments previously had been moved to the beginning of the meeting to see whether it would encourage more participation. However, meetings still drew the same handful of speakers.
“Ultimately we found that sometimes we would only have two people come and then everyone would have to wait around for 20 minutes or, like tonight, we’d have more people then we had time for and our meeting was moved back,” board Chairwoman Carol Cook said.
In other matters, the board unanimously passed a new student progression plan. Elementary, middle and high schools will change from six grading periods to four next school year, which means final semester grades will be based on two grading periods and a final exam instead of three grading periods and a final exam.
Under another change, high school freshmen beginning in 2014-15 will have a new formula that makes honors courses worth less on their grade point averages than other college-level courses. An “A” grade in an Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Advanced International Certificate of Education or dual enrollment class will be worth 5 points, but in honors classes it will be worth 4.5 points. An “A” grade in a regular course will continue to be worth 4 points, and in a basic course it would be worth 3 points.