For a little over a year, the Newton Board of Education meetings have been live streamed to an audience of attentive USD 373 patrons. That responsibility has fallen to concerned citizen and current BOE candidate Mallory Morton, however, and not a member of district staff.
Morton, who spoke during a period of public comment at the most recent school board meeting, noted videos of those meetings on Facebook have been viewed nearly 20,000 times since she has started recording meetings. With that size of audience, she called for the district to take up that banner themselves.
"It is past time for the district to take on this responsibility and I hope you choose to do so," Morton said.
The topic of recording meetings was on the agenda for the school board this week, with communications director Samantha Anderson presenting a few potential options for the board to consider. All options included streaming video on Facebook while going through other sources to help with captioning the recordings before uploading to the district website.
Anderson noted she is also working with district personnel to devise the most efficient method (i.e. what equipment to use) for recording meetings.
"It's something we've been looking into and something we want to make sure we get right," Anderson said.
While administration reported attorneys from the Kansas Association of School Boards, as well as the district's attorney (John Robb), expressed concern over the streaming of meetings — advising against it — multiple board members see it as a way to make the actions of the board more accessible to the community.
"The most effective way to have good representation is to have accountability," said board member Jennifer Budde. "We are the elected officials, and what comes out of our mouths and when we raise our hand to vote for something, we need to be held accountable for that. Every single person needs to know exactly how the person they cast their vote for is representing them."
"I would like us to keep pursuing this," said board president Matt Treaster. "It's good that people are engaged. I just don't see the downside to it."
Fellow BOE member Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs, however, raised concern over potential liability issues and distortion of information with the recordings — noting the board is already publicly engaging with those who physically show up to the meetings at McKinley Administrative Center.
While board member Steve Richards said he was instinctually on board with the transparency linked to recorded meetings, he did state there would be some potential pitfalls to be aware of if the board does pursue streaming.
"Because we're all human, we will make fumbles," Richards said. "In some ways it can, in a certain sense, suppress the discussion at the table as opposed to enhance the conversation at the table."
Pleased to see more board members in support of potentially recording meetings, Angela Becker stated her belief that it is also something there will be a push for among new board members.
While there are some elements to fine tune still, superintendent Deb Hamm and Anderson noted an official proposal (with associated costs) to record meetings will be brought before the school board at a future meeting.