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Farmington School Board debates merits of recording work sessions

The Farmington School Board debated the merits of video or audio recording work sessions for 38 minutes at a work session May 13 at Farmington High School. Kara Hildreth / Contributor

FARMINGTON — Should Farmington School Board work sessions be televised or would it be better for an audio recording to be posted on the school district's website?

School Board members and district administrative staff spent 38 minutes discussing the merits of audio or video recording board work sessions at its meeting on Monday.

Currently, School Board work session meetings are held the second Monday of each month at Farmington High School. Regular business meetings are held the fourth Monday at Farmington City Hall and those meetings are televised or can be viewed on the district's website.

All heard

School Board Chair Jacilyn Doyle said a couple board members suggested recording work sessions with audio only.

"I think we have access to iPads and I wouldn't mind them being recorded so we could go back and see it and listen to it better," board member Steve Corraro said.

Superintendent Jay Haugen cautioned however that if the School Board attempts to video record the work sessions, it has a responsibility to make sure each person present can be heard clearly. An iPad recording may not pick up the audio in its entirety, Haugen said, which is why microphones are used during regular board meetings.

For a few years the board conducted work session at City Hall. Years ago work sessions were televised and held in an informal format with tables for discussion at the Little Theatre at Boeckman Middle School.

The school district looked into what it would take to properly audio record a work session three years ago, Haugen said. The conclusion was the school district would need to put in a system.

Intimidating format

The board and district staff talked about how some may feel intimidated by being visually recorded and this may impact the quality of the discussions at work sessions.

"Being in contact with several teachers in the district who like this setup because it is very non-intimidating. They don't like being recorded and I have heard a lot from teachers who preferred this method because they feel like it is a casual, open conversation versus right now being recorded," said Rebecca Kaletta, the newest School Board member.

Corraro said he had heard from district teachers that they want to be informed.

"Technology has been looking at some equipment and they have had four different consultants in just to look at recording equipment for audio recording and they have not looked at video," said Lori Jensen, executive assistant for the superintendent and the school district.

Corraro said since the district has all the iPads that this would be a good use for them.

"I struggle with the resistance," Corraro said.

Honest, open conversation

The Farmington School District hired a consultant to improve board relations and internal communications.

Haugen said the consultant told the board how recording work sessions changes the conversation and may lead to losing open, honest conversation and may limit the board's ability to brainstorm.

Board member Melissa Sauser said it has been problematic when she missed a work session for an illness and other members have missed because it has been hard to hear the dialogue.

"We are a technology strong district and we record music concerts and sports events ... we have a video class and a class that do the news and we have students who know how to use those cameras," Sauser said. "Is there an innovative way to look at solving this problem creatively where we can have audio and video and help those at the table and help those that cannot make it today?"

Sauser added that work sessions become the deep dive — where program ideas and details are discussed in length.

"If we have the ability to explain how it started and have people understand every step of the way and the process, then I think we should entertain that idea," Sauser said. "We were elected to be public officials at a public meeting and we should be able to provide the issues, the agenda, the meetings and what happens with the discussion at the meeting and make it easy and accessible to the community for whatever reason they cannot be here."

Recordings for board members

Board Vice Chair Julie Singewald said the purpose for the recording was for board members who missed the meeting to have an opportunity to hear the meeting.

"We are the only ones in this area that are struggling whether we record or not because City Council continues to have work sessions that go unrecorded, and you go to any one of the townships and those meetings are not recorded," Singewald said. "My understanding is the intent of these meetings was for us to create a safe space where we could get really good information."

Corraro said board discussion was going way off track.

"I don't care what the city does and I don't care what other communities do — I got elected to be on this board to share information with the public, end of story," Corraro said. "We keep bringing up trust and conversation, well we should be able to have that with the board and on TV ... to me there should be no difference on that."

As a new school board member, Kaletta said it has been very intimidating speaking up at City Council.

"Many times I have wanted to say something and I have been right in the middle and closing and I look up and I say not the place or not the statement I want to make here but maybe at a work session," Kaletta said. "There is a lot of throwing under the bus and that is one thing when I first went out for board everybody thought I was crazy."

"I agree we should all be comfortable being on camera and I agree we should set that example, but there are people who were not elected to school board who want to sometimes participate in these meetings and I worry if we are on camera they don't show up," board member Jake Cordes said.

Doyle asked the administration to move forward and look into reviewing new microphones and research a new board work session format. District staff will bring that information back to a future school board meeting.

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