In an effort to make school board meetings less formal and more inviting to the community, Duarte school board members are sitting with the audience and chatting about parents' concerns in a new series of community "study sessions."
"Parents said they felt intimidated at the formal board meetings," said Jan Wight, president of the Duarte Unified School District. "We are trying to become more user-friendly. We didn't realize we were so intimidating."
The first meeting was Monday. The monthly sessions, held at the Duarte Performing Arts Center, will focus on a different topic.
Using an overhead projector to outline the district's textbook needs and finances, board members sat among the audience instead of on a dais, while taking questions from the audience of about 50 people.
One of the problems with the regular board meetings, which will continue to be held twice a month, is that many people don't understand public meeting regulations, Supt. Marcia McVey said.
"At board meetings, we have to agendize everything. People who want to address the board have to fill out a card, and if they are not listed on the agenda, board members cannot respond," McVey said.
Those who attended the event took advantage of the casual atmosphere and question-and-answer period.
Duarte resident Marshall Jackman was among several parents who asked for detailed answers on where the district spends its money and why it didn't have enough funds to buy textbooks this year. Because of state funding cuts, the district has not been able to keep pace with the textbook needs of its 4,500 students, said Dennis Trzeciak, administrator of instructional services.
"We receive 12% less in funds than we did four years ago," Trzeciak said. "We've had to make some hard decisions, but we are solvent. We have a reserve, and we are moving ahead to get on firmer ground."
To make up for money that it no longer receives from the state, the district is embarking on a communitywide project to raise $175,000 for student textbooks, McVey said.
The next meeting is scheduled in late April.