NJ Jimmy Olsen highlights H.B. 61 re: board meeting recordings

Delaware lawmakers want school board meetings recorded Matthew Albright, The News Journal8:57 p.m. EDT April 5, 2015

Every Delaware school board will be required to record audio of meetings and post it online if the General Assembly passes a bill being considered in Dover.

Lawmakers who support the legislation and open-government advocates say recorded meetings are a way for citizens to better keep tabs on the actions of elected officials and stay updated on issues facing schools.

“I think it’s important that people be able to hear what their elected officials are doing,” said Rep. Deborah Hudson, R-Fairthorne, the sponsor of House Bill 61. “And they can do this without any major burden to the district, so I think it just makes sense.”

It’s not a matter of keeping tabs but more staying informed and being able to engage the issue during the process. Many times board have discussion on action items that they will take action on at the “next” board meeting. However, board minutes aren’t approved and released to the public until the board approves them the following meeting. 

The Christina, Red Clay and Capital school boards voluntarily post recordings of meetings. The State Board of Education is required by law to record meetings and have the audio available one business day later.

The new legislation would apply only to school board meetings, not workshops or committee sessions.

Elizabeth Paige, serving her first term on the Christina school board, said she’s found the recordings useful for researching issues facing the district.

“As the newest member of the school board, it was really helpful to go back and listen to school board meetings from before I got here,” Paige said.

Let’s not forget Brandywine, Delmar and Colonial school districts do the same voluntarily and the state board of education by law. Thanks Elizabeth for positive support 

Hudson introduced a similar bill last session, but it did not advance out of the House. Hudson, a Republican, suspects it may not have gone through because many bills sponsored by the minority part weren’t considered late in the session.

This time around she has the support of House Education Committee Chairman Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, who hopes to put it to a vote. No date has been scheduled for a committee hearing.

The bill has 14 co-sponsors from both parties, not counting Hudson and the Senate sponsor, Karen Peterson, D-Stanton.

But let’s not forget the last bill successfully made it through the House Education Committee and House Appropriation Committee and was desk-drawer vetoed. The previous  chair of the House Education Committee supported the last attempt.   

Hudson said she encountered some reservations from district leaders last year who worried about the cost and administrative burden of creating and posting recordings. She said her staff did some research and found that relatively high-quality equipment could be purchased for $50-$150.

“We’re talking a negligible cost for these districts,” Hudson said. “We’re not even suggesting the type of recording device. I don’t expect it to be anymore than something that gets a clear recording.”

One will think with all the Race to The Top money a few bucks could have went for recorders. Also, Title 1 funding can be used under parental involvement funding. Surely Title 1 parents unable to make board meetings would like to hear what’s going on at the board level impacting their children. 

John Flaherty, president of the Delaware Coalition for Open Government, said the recordings are a good idea.

“I think we’re always looking for ways to increase transparency and allow people to monitor the actions of elected officials,” Flaherty said. “Not everybody has time to go these meetings in person, so the convenience of able to go back and listen when you have time is a good thing.”

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