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NHC school board chair wants 'Call to the Audience' lottery, says advocacy groups are taking up too much time

The New Hanover County Board of Education's policy committee met this week and decided to change how to handle its public comment section.
The New Hanover County Board of Education's policy committee met this week and decided to change how to handle its public comment section.

During the January 11 policy committee meeting, several members of the New Hanover County school board agreed to implement a new ‘lottery’ system to decide who can speak during the public comment section of regular Board of Education meetings.

The ‘Call to the Audience’ section which opens the board’s regular monthly meetings is known for passionate, and at times disruptive, comments from the public on a wide variety of topics.

But according to Board Chair Stephanie Kraybill, two advocate groups — one asking to end suspensions for students 4 to 7 years old, and one asking for increased pay for teaching assistants — are taking up the too much time.

“Two topics seem to be taking up all of our time … the suspension talk, you know, although important, it takes up 50 to 60% of the spots. And, lately, our TAs — and their input is equally as important — but they're taking up about 35% of our time," Kraybill said after raising the issue with the policy committee.

Currently, the board's policy allows up to one hour of public comments from people in the order that they’ve signed up (with the option to hear more speakers at the conclusion of the board's agenda items). Kraybill said she would like to move to a lottery, with speakers chosen using a random number generator. The Wake County School Board uses a similar procedure — but only when the number of public speakers exceeds 20.

Those interested in speaking would sign up ahead of time and be notified if they were chosen; five slots would remain open for speakers to sign up at the Board of Education meeting.

Kraybill said that if those chosen by the lottery don’t show up, the board could simply move on.

“We don't have to go the whole hour either. [Board policy] just says up to an hour. So you know, we don't wait, if people don't show up, then we just get done early. And that's just kind of being rude to your, you know, fellow community members," Kraybill said.

Kraybill asked if the change should be placed on an upcoming agenda for a board vote, but board member Nelson Beaulieu said the board’s current policy allows the change without a vote from the full board — and board attorney Colin Shive agreed. Beaulieu suggested notifying the public of the change at next week’s interim meeting (which does not feature a public comment section).

Before moving on to other issues, board member Pete Wildeboer asked the policy committee to consider adding more spots — moving from 5 to 10 slots — for people who sign up in-person to speak, to give deference to those who show up in person over those who sign up online and might not show up. Wildeboer noted that at a recent meeting nine people signed up but didn't show.

Editor's note: WHQR asked the district to confirm the change to a lottery-based speaker selection for the Call to the Audience. A spokesperson directed us to the video of the policy committee meeting.

Below: Video of the January 11 NHC Board meeting. Kraybill introduces the issue of public comment at the 21:45 mark.