USD 373 Board of Education meetings have been live streamed for going on over a year now, an effort taken up by concerned citizen-turned-school board member Mallory Morton.
Morton's commitment to streaming meetings opened the door for the Newton BOE to discuss doing so in-house, a conversation that began heating up in the fall and culminated with a couple of recording options being brought before the board for action on Monday — Morton's first as an official USD 373 school board member.
Broadcasting could be done for free using Facebook or YouTube, but district staff also recommended if meetings are to be recorded that those recordings should be of a high quality, which would require some one-time equipment costs.
Communications director Samantha Anderson brought forward a couple of options for equipment purchases to help with meeting recordings for the board to consider on Monday. Staff recommendation was to proceed with a lower bid provided by Tim Cox, totaling $1,300, that would utilize the current infrastructure at the McKinley Administrative Center and include the purchase of a camera, tripod and audio cables — with no need for additional microphones.
Staff also pointed out that if recordings were auto-captioned through Facebook or YouTube, those captions would need to be reviewed for accuracy, which would incur an additional cost, whether financially or in terms of man hours. The necessity of caption review was discussed, as well as linking meeting recordings on the district website, along with what all would need to be done to be in compliance with state statutes.
"The legal cautions are provided for you," said superintendent Deb Hamm. "You just need to decide what the parameters are and whether or not you're going to move forward."
"I think if we are going to do it, we need to do it right from the beginning even if it means me going through the captions and making sure everything's right," Anderson said.
Legal counsel from the Kansas Association of School Boards, as well as district attorney John Robb, expressed concern of recording meetings and advised against it.
Discussion of what to include in the meeting recordings brought a lot of focus to the public comments, where board members saw some potential liability issues, while the opinions of the KASB and Robb weighed heavy on the minds of some board members when looking at the big picture.
While for transparency, there were concerns raised by board member Toby Tyner about going against all legal counsel — especially if you could count the number of districts currently recording meetings on one hand. Morton, however, noted her research on live streaming showed that number of districts recording meetings is more substantial. Her numbers showed nearly 20 districts across Kansas recording or live streaming meetings, from school districts as small as Solomon to as large as Wichita.
"I understand that there are concerns from a legal aspect, and there are certainly some situations that we would need to use caution in ... but looking at so many other districts that are doing it with support from their communities, I think this is something we need to do," Morton said.
Parameters remain to be ironed out — like how exactly captioning is handled and where all the recordings are linked to — but the Newton BOE got the ball rolling by approving recording of public meetings by the district Monday, with the parameters to come back before the school board for a decision at a later date.
In other business, the Newton BOE:
• Appointed Matt Treaster as school board president for 2020.
• Appointed Jennifer Budde as school board vice-president for 2020.
• Approved regular BOE meetings dates as presented, eliminating the second meetings previously scheduled for February, March and April.
• Was recognized for the service of its members as part of School Board Recognition Month.
• Heard a presentation from Chisholm Middle School teacher Kaitlin Patterson on the new Spanish language/culture class being offered to students at the school.
• Received a report from the Newton High School class of 2021, which is pursuing efforts to host prom at an off-site venue, the Wild Prairie Event Center.
• Approved the consent agenda, including reports and mileage reimbursement rate changes.
• Discussed funding options available through utilization of Capital Outlay or Local Option Budget money for big district projects.
• Gave board clerk Joni Jantz direction to make an interview schedule for superintendent applicants, based off the second option presented to the school board by KASB representatives — amending the schedule to allow for a longer dinner break, among other minor changes.
• Approved school board committee assignments for 2020, with Jennifer Budde to serve on the SPED Coop board, Toby Tyner on the KASB government relations board, Melissa Schreiber on the vocational advisory board, Angela Becker on the educational endowment committee, Matt Treaster on the Public Building Commission, Luke Edwards on the technology committee; Edwards, Tyner and Becker on the negotiations team and Mallory Morton on the Head Start policy council.
• Approved gift requests as presented.
• Reviewed initial Capital Outlay and staffing position plans for the 2020-2021 school year.
• Received a parent observation form to review to be implemented at all district schools (for uniformity across buildings).
• Was informed of research being done by EAB on best practices for school districts, research district staff is looking into, although it was noted membership is expensive.