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School Board meeting tranquil

They are usually anything but tame. But Tuesday's Hernando County School Board meeting, called to consider ways to let the public talk without the usual degeneration to shouting and name-calling, went just fine.

School Board members politely agreed to meet again Thursday afternoon to discuss their discussion policy.

The meeting was in response to criticisms leveled after chairman Paul Clemons last week announced new rules of conduct. He said audience members would be allowed to ask questions or make comments only during 10 minutes allotted at the end of meetings.

To soften Clemons' rules, board members Nancy Gordon and Diane Rowden offered written proposals that were considered at the workshop.

Gordon suggested that the board pick a night other than one reserved for regular board meetings to hear public comments. The board could hold such forums throughout the county, she said.

Rowden recommended that the board use a variation of what is done in Pinellas County where the public is allowed to speak followed by board discussion. She said it would be better to reverse that process and allow board discussion first.

A third plan came from Leland McKeown.

"I'd like to see us crawl before we walk. We need to do something, but let's not jump in," he said before offering the idea that members of the public look at the agenda before the meeting and then request permission to speak beforehand, stating the topic they wish to cover.

Each person would have a time limit, McKeown said, suggesting that five minutes would be appropriate.

As the discussion wound down, Rowden said that she thinks the best thing would be to go back to the way things were done before. If audience members get out of control they can be ruled out of order by Clemons, who also can order people ousted from the board facility.

"We had something that had been working," Rowden said. "I think it just got a little out of hand."

After the board adjourned its special meeting on the discussion policy and began its regular meeting, Rowden asked to interrupt Clemons so that she could ask a question.

"Could you just tell me how this meeting is going to be held?" she asked. "Are people going to be able to participate or not?"

"Oh, yes," Clemons said, adding that he would deal with the public as they asked to speak.

Those who did speak Tuesday were orderly.

Thursday's workshop to discuss public participation will be at 3 p.m.

Besides talking about public involvement, the board also agreed to send a resolution supporting a Senate bill that would allow school districts to use capital improvement funds for classroom support for one year. The bill would permit districts to take money designated for construction and equipment and the like and spend it on books and other supplies.

The board approved the resolution 4-1 with McKeown opposed to it because he thinks the proposed law allows the Legislature to shirk its duties to finance public schools.

Superintendent Dan McIntyre agreed, saying that the letter sent to the lawmakers should note that the board reluctantly supports the proposed bill, which he said allows the state "to rob Peter to pay Paul."

However, "if bad got to worse it would be nice to have the option" to use the capital funds for classroom support, he said.