AUGUSTA — A school board committee recommends discontinuing a policy that forbids all board members, other than the chairperson, to comment to the news media.

The Policy Committee voted 2-0 with one abstention Monday night to recommend the full school board nullify the policy, adopted in 2011, on board relations with the media.

The last paragraph of the policy, which prohibits board members from commenting or providing information to the media, was the most controversial.

It states: “When individual board members receive requests from news media representatives for information or comment, they shall refer such inquiries to the board chair who shall be public spokesperson for the board.”

Donna Madore, assistant superintendent, said she checked with Maine School Management Association looking for similar policies and was told that all it could provide was one from New York.

Laura Hamilton, at-large board member and chairwoman of the Policy Committee, found out Augusta appears to be the only school system in the state that has such a policy.

She and Tom Connors, at-large board member and committee member, said the school system should get rid of it. That would leave, officials said, board members free to express their opinions to members of the news media as long as they make it clear it is their opinion and they are not speaking for the board as a whole, or for the school system.

“It’s not that board members can’t speak,” said Kim Martin, school board chairwoman. “If (a reporter) calls Deb (Towle, Ward 2 board member) and asks, ‘Why did you vote this way?’ you should be able to do that.”

The Augusta Board of Education has nine members who are elected to serve three-year terms. Martin has been chairwoman for two years and has been the board’s media liaison.

Madore said she inquired with officials of Maine School Management Association, a nonprofit federation of local school boards and superintendents, seeking similar policies Augusta could consider as models if board members wished to change the policy.  She said association officials said the only policy they could provide was from a New York school.

“I’m uncomfortable no other school in the state has this policy, and Augusta does,” Hamilton said. “If nobody else has it, I don’t know why we have it. I’m all for not having excessive policies. The media isn’t going to look at our policy manual anyway; they’re just going to call the board chair, or the superintendent.”

Jennifer Neumeyer, at-large school board member and the Personnel Committee member who abstained from voting on the recommendation to delete the policy, said she thought the policy was good, and there must have been some reason it was put in place in October 2011.

Martin, who joined the school board in January 2011, said she didn’t recall why the policy was adopted then, and minutes from meetings from 2011 don’t indicate why the policy was adopted.

Donna Madore, assistant superintendent, said board members reviewed the policy because they received an email from a community member expressing concerns about the policy.

She suggested that before committee members vote to recommend deleting the entire policy, they should consider recommending removing the paragraph that forbids board members to speak with the media and replace it with a paragraph noting the board chairperson shall act as the public spokesperson and media contact for the board but noting nothing in the policy shall prevent any board member from talking to the media and expressing his or her own opinion.

The policy remains in effect and would be removed only if the full school board votes to do so. The board is tentatively scheduled to meet Aug. 10.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj