Willow Lane Elementary

In other business, Seidenberger said safety improvements made at Willow Lane Elementary cost the school district $73,000, $27,000 less than the $100,000 the district budgeted for that work.

East Penn resident Susan Coenen, who has two children attending Willow Lane Elementary, thanked the school district for its quick response to “a very dangerous situation that existed at Willow Lane last week.”

She said buses serving the school now stop farther from the curb, so they can turn safely without going over the sidewalk “and running the risk of hitting students, staff or anyone else. I just want to thank you for making the safety of our students a top priority.”

Coenen was the only member of the public to address the school board.

More public participation in board meetings?

Board member Lynn Donches is pushing her colleagues on the board to make its meetings more open to the public, by giving people more opportunities to speak.

“It’s workable; it would show greater respect for the public,” said board member Julian Stolz. “Just because we’ve done something the same way for a couple of decades doesn’t mean we should keep doing it that way.”

Currently, the school board allows people to speak only at the beginning of its meetings and it usually does not immediately respond to whatever issues they raise.

Said Earnshaw: “I don’t see any compelling reason to change at this point.” He’s been on the school board for 12 years and said it is fulfilling both the letter and the spirit of the state’s Sunshine Act. That was confirmed by board Solicitor Marc Fisher.

Ballard, the board president, said: “Although it is called a public meeting, this is actually a meeting held in public as opposed to the strict definition of a public meeting. I think I could find firm legal ground to establish that if it was necessary.

“The objective of this meeting is to have the board conduct its business. There are certain things we have to do in public. But this is not a forum for public speeches, not a place to argue with the public. It is a place to hear the public and for the board to make its decisions in public.”

Donches said Lehigh County commissioners and Lower Macungie Township commissioners run efficient meetings with more opportunities for public participation.

But board member Ken Bacher said he attended a county commissioners meeting where discussion on just one agenda item continued for two or three hours.

Ballard said the issue of public participation in East Penn board meetings is due for a thorough review, because it was last done in 1992.

All board members will make suggestions about what changes, if any, they would like to see and pass them on to the administration. Those suggestions eventually will become a board-approved list of potential changes submitted to the Pennsylvania School Board Association’s policy service, which will develop policy recommendations for the board’s approval.