Very few Idaho school boards live stream meetings

As more governing boards and agencies record their meetings in the Age of Technology, Idaho’s school boards are slow to follow.

The Idaho Legislature has been a statewide leader in live streaming meetings and larger city councils and commission meetings also are broadcast, recorded and archived.

However, less than a handful of Idaho’s 115 school district boards record and archive their meetings. West Bonner County, Blaine County and Boundary County districts live stream and archive meetings. The Bonneville School District streams board meetings through an app called Periscope that a user downloads to a device.

“It makes public meetings accessible for a larger audience. Webcasts and live streams are one way to overcome some of the obstacles to public participation,” said Blaine County’s communication officer Heather Crocker. “People are busy and they can’t always come to trustee meetings, but they can watch the live stream from their house or office and they can watch the webcast whenever it’s convenient for them.”

The Caldwell School District started recording its board meetings about five years ago, though it does not stream them live. The archived recordings are a popular feature in this district because of recent turmoil. Trustees have been grilled before a full audience over the abrupt ouster this summer of superintendent Tim Rosandick and deputy superintendent Luci Asumendi. Two trustees are up for recall in the November election and a search effort for new leadership has dominated board meetings.

“There is no disputing the video,” said Jodie Mills, Caldwell’s interim superintendent. “Video is a great resource to hear exactly what was said and see the mood and the context in which it was said.”

The cost to video record in Caldwell and West Bonner has been minimal, school officials said. One-time equipment costs were about $500 for each district to purchase a camera and accessories.

A technician films the meetings in Caldwell and posts the video within about 24 hours, while West Bonner Superintendent Paul Anselmo is in charge of their recordings.

“Our technology director sets it up each time for us so we just need to press record at the meeting time and stop at the end,” Anselmo said.

West Bonner uses a free version of Ustream TV to stream the board meeting live over the Internet. The videos are archived to a server. Caldwell uses YouTube, which also is free.

Blaine’s operation is more sophisticated and required initial consulting costs on top of equipment and it pays about $3,000 annually to a streaming host.

“People who watch the webcast do miss out on the atmosphere and emotion that cannot be captured through video, but it is still a way to access the trustee discussions, staff presentations and public comment without leaving home, thinking about childcare, finding parking and making alternative dinner plans,” Crocker said.

Like Caldwell, West Ada is another district in turmoil with shakeups in leadership, igniting more public interest in board meetings. Superintendent Linda Clark abruptly resigned last week, saying she was forced out. This could affect the Nov. 3 supplemental levy. A September board meeting featured more than 100 audience members and they were forced to sit idle for nearly three hours while trustees were in executive session. The trustees agreed they violated open meeting laws after reviewing written board minutes and a contract extension of Clark’s was voided. There was no video to view the board meetings and violation.

West Ada trustees have taken an interest in filming meeting. Chief Operations Officer Joe Yochum presented the board with a range of options that could cost from $800 to $14,000, depending on the sophistication of the equipment.

“This would be an invaluable tool for patrons,” said trustee Mike Vuittonet.

Trustee Russell Joki asked Yochum to look at what the Caldwell School District is doing. Yochum has not been asked to report back to the board.

Idaho law requires the taking of written minutes at all school board meetings and those minutes must be made available to the public. Recording video would supplement that effort, and is not required.

West Ada clerk Trish Duncan told trustees she supported the idea of videos because it is difficult to capture the complete record of the meeting using the current system.

Officials from districts like tiny Basin and large Boise say they aren’t video recording meetings because there has been no demand to do it.

“I personally have had only one patron inquiry about it,” said Nancy Gregory, board president for the Boise School District. “We have talked about it and are exploring possible options.”