More community members will get a chance to address the Austin school board, but their time to speak is being cut in half.

A new state law requires the Austin district to remove its long-standing 30-person cap for public speakers. To comply, district officials are limiting speakers to one-minute each, regardless of whether they are making comments on agenda-specific items or addressing the board on unrelated topics. Monday night will be the first meeting under the change.

"We could have two people or 200 people," said board Trustee Amber Elenz. "We just don't know. It makes it really hard to plan."

Because the school board meetings are in the evenings, district leaders expressed concern that the additional speakers would add hours to the already lengthy gatherings. They bounced around ideas such as starting the meetings earlier, but instead decided to limit the speaking time.

Other government agencies handle their public comment times differently. At Austin City Council meetings, the first 20 people addressing agenda-specific topics are allotted three minutes each, and anyone thereafter gets one minute. At noon during each council meeting, the public also can address members on other subjects, but the council caps the number to 10. At State Board of Education meetings, speakers are allotted three minutes each.

The new Austin school board rules will allow up to 10 speakers during the meeting's "General Comments" portion, which is set aside for issues not on the agenda. As required by the new law, there is no limit to the number of speakers during the "Public Testimony" portion for addressing agenda-specific items. The time limit for both is one minute. 

The new time constraints may prove more difficult for district speakers who often are still voicing their thoughts when their two minutes run out.

While some community members say they understand the decision to shorten speaking time, they also feel the district is hampering communication. 

"I constantly hear different representatives from the district tell us how much they value and strive to increase input and dialogue from members within the AISD community," said Jared Breckenridge, a community activist who routinely attends school board meetings. "However, for them to just change the allotted time from two minutes to just one minute, I think that is just an ultimate slap in our faces. It's as if our complete thoughts and ideas to the district do not even matter."

Parent Emily Sawyer, who also regularly attends board meetings, said the one-minute cap will be difficult, but does afford opportunity for more people to speak. Still, she expressed concern that limiting sign up times from 7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. to only the day of the board meeting, could "make it difficult for working folks, or folks who have kids to drop off at school, to get on the phone or into the central office to sign up."

It is unclear how many people will turn out to speak at Monday night's meeting. This is the first chance community members will get to address the board since the district last month unveiled a multi-year "School Changes" plan, which includes shuttering 12 campuses, revamping admissions to sought-after magnets and realigning grades at some schools. 

But campus closures or other aspects of the plan are not on the agenda, which means community members wanting to address the board Monday about the school changes can only do so if they are one of the 10 speakers able to sign in under "General Comments."

Instead, district officials are hosting 19 meetings specific to the school changes and closures during the next few weeks. The series of discussions will be held at various campuses through Oct. 10.

Other items on Monday's board agenda include approval of a new video chat service that connects students to pediatricians and the district tax rate, which is being reduced under a new state law.

The board is expected to lower its tax rate by 7 cents to $1.122 per $100 of assessed property value. Despite the recent passage of House Bill 3, which offers $5 billion in property tax relief to Texas taxpayers, the average Austin homeowner likely will pay more in school taxes this year. The owner of the average taxable home in the district, valued at $421,407, is expected to pay $4,728 in school taxes, up $104 since last year. Had the law not changed, the average homeowner in the district would have paid an additional $250 based on an 8.6% increase in home value.