After some debate, the Guilderland Board of Education voted at the Tuesday, April 29, meeting to begin a limited public forum policy for the district’s campuses.
Although some favored having an open forum for campaign material, others suggested having a completely closed public forum on campus as a way to safeguard the school from unappealing content. Many just wanted to find a happy medium.
I am for a limited open forum, said Colleen O’Connell, a board member.
She said she is more lenient about campaigning on school property, but she understands that having an open forum does not come without risks.
`[The opposition] is legitimately concerned that fringe groups will come and campaign on the campus, and we won’t be able to control their content,` she said. `But it doesn’t make sense to me to not let people running for the school board to campaign on school property. It’s only fair to people who are not incumbents.`
John Dornbush, vice president of the board, argued on the side of a closed public forum.
`I think it’s a slippery slope,` he said. `You’ll start to find things on your school that you don’t want.`
Dornbush said that there are other ways for candidates to campaign other than using school property.
`You can go door-to-door, or go to Little League games. You can put signs up,` he said.
Dornbush is in his third term on the Board of Education and running for his fourth. He said that he has never campaigned on school property when he was up for reelection.
`I have never felt the need to go to school to target voters. And I have been supported for nine years,` he said.
Dornbush said the controversy over campaigning on campus became an issue in May 2007.
`Parents were complaining about having candidates passing out literature,` he said.
In light of those concerns, the board drew up an amendment to the policy as a compromise. It allows the schools in Guilderland to be an open public forum from 3:30 to 11 p.m. It will last from May 1 through May 20, which is the time period when the candidates will be campaigning.
On May 20, the policy expires. The following year, the topic will be brought up again. The amended policy will be reviewed, the board will determine if it was successful, and whether or not to use it again.
Though opinions were polarized, both sides agreed that campaigning on campus has never been more than a minor nuisance, and this is not a hot-button issue.
O’Connell said, `I personally don’t think the policy is going to be that disruptive. Most of the kids at school aren’t even old enough to vote, yet. I mean, it wouldn’t make sense to target first-graders, would it?`
Dornbush said that even though it is not what he considers ideal, he stands by the board’s decision.
`It’s just not a big deal,` he said simply. “