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District 200 Citizens Advisory Committee could be established by fall

WHEATON – Community Unit School District 200 residents may soon get a new platform to share their thoughts and hear from district officials on major issues.

The district's Board of Education continued to discuss creating a Citizens Advisory Committee on July 8.

The committee would be designed to "improve the education of the children, youth and adults of the District by advising the Board of Education regarding educational and other issues facing the District," according to a draft of its charter and bylaws.

District Director of Public Relations Erica Loiacono said the committee is part of a broader engagement plan to foster conversations between the district and community members.

"Those ongoing, two-way communications are not always easy to come by unless you create some type of structured environment for that to happen," she said. "This community advisory committee is what we believe is that structured opportunity for the board to continue listening to the community."

The committee would include up to 36 area residents, who would go through an application and selection process. The body would study and deliberate topics and report its results to the board, advise the board on policy, and facilitate collaboration and communication between the district, its schools and the community.

All committee meetings and activities would be subject to the Open Meetings and Freedom of Information acts.

"We don't want this group to take a lot of official action," Superintendent Jeff Schuler said. "I think the benefit of the group will be discussion."

He said the committee could be ready to begin meeting in the fall, with the board voting on the final charter Aug. 12.

In its current form, the charter states membership "should reflect the diversity of the citizens of the district," an area where board and community members have said previous engagement efforts have failed.

Board member Jim Mathieson said the concept was "very wishful." He and other board members said the committee would only work if the board found people who disagreed with it and recognized those opinions in its decisions.

"We have to make sure we create a forum to see the minority or silent majority opinions," he said. "That's going to take the ability for the group as well as the board to hear things we may not want to hear at times."

Schuler said reaching the desired level of diversity isn't an exact science, but committee turnover would give the district annual opportunities to find the right mix and give voices to those who were under-represented.

Board member Barbara Intihar said the board needs to do a better job acknowledging and working with criticism. She expressed hope for a civil conversation among a committee that cares about students, even if they disagree.

"The people that are selected on this committee have to have in their heart a feeling of what's best for their community and what's best for the schoolchildren in their community," she said. "So I think as long as that's in their heart, disagreements can be dealt with."

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