Katy Independent School District (KISD) is the latest district to enact rule changes that lower the ethics standards, making it harder for citizens to hold public officials accountable.
KISD’s Board of Trustees recently voted unanimously to remove the public comment section from regular meetings, where citizens were previously given three minutes to sound off on a topic of their choosing. Citizens wishing to address the board will now have to attend the board’s work-study session, which is a week before the regular board meeting, and will no longer be recorded.
These work-study sessions are generally a preview of the items to be considered at the following week’s board meeting, although they receive much less attention from the public.
The district is claiming that since it is only required by law to record the regular board meetings, they are “saving” taxpayers $4,000 by not recording the work-study sessions. With the removal of public comment from regular meetings, district residents will no longer have a viewable public record of testimony given during these sessions.
KISD’s board and administration claim this change will somehow boost communication between the public and the district. The board wants to present an agenda item, hear citizen concerns, and then look into those concerns during the week leading up to the regular board meeting. According to the district, this will allow time for thorough consideration, according to the district.
Taxpayers and residents of KISD say otherwise.
The board has always had the ability to postpone an item until the following meeting if concerns from the public during the regular meeting gave them pause. Interestingly, the change comes months after 12-year old Jordan Wooley addressed the board detailing the now famous “God Is A Myth” class assignment. Many are saying this change is an attempt to avoid any further public embarrassment regarding controversy exposed by parents and students.
Last week, Houston ISD also lowered their ethics standards after they finalized their proposed rule change regarding campaign donations. Now, Trustees will only have to abstain from voting on contracts of vendors who have donated $2,000 or more to their campaign in the past twelve months.
Previously, Trustees were required to abstain from voting on contracts with vendors who donated $500 or more to their campaign. Former Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones wanted to remove the abstention requirement all together, but after a strong showing of opposition at the board meeting, the proposal was amended to keep the requirement and increase the contribution limit. In doing so, the board signaled to the public that contributions of $1,999 or less did not somehow pose a conflict of interest.
School districts often get an unwarranted pass from public scrutiny by those who follow the actions of their officials and government entities. The lowering of ethical standards enacted by both HISD and KISD further public skepticism by creating an environment for potential conflicts of interest, outright corruption, and fiscal mismanagement.
It is incumbent upon citizens to be engaged at the local level to ensure that the abandonment of public accountability measures in HISD and KISD don’t become a broader trend adopted by districts across the state.