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High school board may improve public access to meeting information

 

The governing board of the Sequoia Union High School District is considering steps to improve digital access to its meeting agendas and the additional information that provides details on agenda items.

At its March 9 meeting, the board discussed testing a software application specifically designed to make it easier for staff to prepare meeting materials and easier for the public to find and read the materials.

Acting on consensus from the board to go ahead, Superintendent Jim Lianides said he will test applications and plans to make a recommendation in April. If the board approves, the software would likely be in place for the start of the 2016-17 school year.

The district has long been posting links on its website to agendas and to some background material for each meeting, a 10-to-20 page document. More details are often available, but until recently, that material had been posted several days later. Emailed agendas and backgrounders are available, but finding the links to more information on the website takes practice.

For board members, receiving meeting materials has been and continues to be a low-tech experience -- and some members prefer it. They receive paper versions of the packet, physically delivered by courier in binders called "board books." To assemble these board books in preparation for a meeting on Wednesday of the following week, the superintendent's administrative assistant spends Friday afternoons collating the pages by hand.

"It's a very time-consuming stressful process," Mr. Lianides told the board. New software would move the board toward paperless operation but, he added, not without options for fans of paper.

While all the materials are posted online, the district's methods are no longer common practice. For example, the details are packaged in a single file with no internal links to what's inside.

Board comments

Board president Alan Sarver asked board members for their views on moving away from paper and toward software dedicated to easing agenda preparation for the staff and access for the public.

"My answer is yes," said member Carrie DuBois, who has been campaigning for such a technological change for years. "It's virtually impossible for a member of the public to find things right now," she said. "My number one priority is to make it easy and very transparent. I want everything online."

Member Chris Thomsen said he was of the same mind as Ms. DuBois, adding that he hopes for better search capabilities. "It's useful for board members to go back and look at what we've done before," he said. "Right now, for me, that means, I have a stack of board books in the garage that's taller than I am, and it's impossible, as opposed to a search for a keyword."

"I agree with (the benefits of) searchability," said member Georgia Jack. "I had to search for something the other day. A very painful experience."

Paperless operations are also environmentally sound, she said, "If I have to hear my husband say one more time, 'What is this giant stack of paper?'" she said. "I mean, we expect our students to be able to function both in an e-world and a paper world. I think we should be able to do the same things."

Member Allen Weiner, an attorney and lecturer at Stanford University law school, admitted to contrariness about moving away from paper. "I work in paper," he said. "I do my research electronically, but when it's time for me to actually sit down and read the document, I work in paper," noting that he highlights, underlines and writes in margins.

"I get it, though," he said. "For me, it's not a great move forward, but I understand the broader equities at stake and, you know, I'm prepared to take one for the team." The environmental and transparency arguments are "totally legitimate," he said.

Mr. Sarver said he's in accord with Mr. Weiner's views. "I'm one of the ones who's been more comfortable with paper," but practices based on personal comfort levels are no longer excusable, he said. "In terms of ensuring that we have the transparency, the searchability, the modernity of it all, it's something that the board and the district owe to the public," he said.

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