PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh City School District will seek public-relations advice from local communications professionals.
Over the next few weeks, members of the School Board will meet with faculty from SUNY Plattsburgh’s Department of Communication Studies to explore ways to facilitate a more open dialogue between the board and the community.
The collaboration comes after discussion among board members and Plattsburgh City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short at recent meetings about how to better obtain input from the community and address the questions and concerns of district residents.
“The point is trying to be transparent and stay communicating,” Short told the Press-Republican.
At a board meeting last month, he noted that while community members often come to School Board meetings seeking answers to district-related questions, the meetings are for conducting board business and are not the time for conversations between board and attendees.
He then proposed the idea of asking district residents to submit their questions to the board via email and hosting a public forum in November for board members to respond to those inquiries.
First, though, will come feedback from the conversation with communications faculty, who may be able to provide insight into how to best execute the community-dialogue concept.
“With some of their support and advice, we may adopt it a little bit differently as we’re trying to create this,” Short told attendees of the board’s meeting Oct. 11.
“It’s a business they understand better than we do.”
One drawback to holding a forum in November, Short told the Press-Republican, is that it would only address topics that are on the minds of district residents between now and then; it would not provide an outlet for board members to address future questions from the community.
“So the forum might not really be the right answer,” he said.
The district also plans to discuss with the communications faculty the possibility of creating an online dialogue with the community via a website; however, Short said, the time and staff it would take to maintain such a site must be considered.
In addition, the superintendent noted at the Oct. 11 sessions, college faculty may be able to help the board implement a polling system to survey community members on district issues.
”That may be another way for community voices to be said and heard,” Short said.
FOIL REQUEST FORMS
Also discussed at last week’s meeting was the school’s new system for individuals to request district records under the federal Freedom of Information Law. The law allows the public to access unclassified records kept by governmental agencies, including public school districts, by filing a formal request with the agency.
Until recently, Short said, the district had received very few FOIL requests, and therefore did not have a proper system in place to track and handle them.
Given a recent influx of such requests, however, the district has decided to make a FOIL request form available on the district’s website.
That will streamline the inquiry process and give people easy access to the necessary paperwork, Short said.
In most cases, he added, people will also have the option of receiving the information they’ve requested electronically, rather than in hard copy.
Some documents may be too large to transmit via email and will require the district to charge a fee for copying them. However, Short said, “if it’s electronically available, we wouldn’t charge because there’s no copying cost.”
Short expects the district’s FOIL form to be available online at plattscsd.org by the end of this week.
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