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School board shifts meeting agendas to Internet

May 10, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County Board of Education officials say they are paying a contractor to post information about board meetings and policies on the Internet to increase public access and save printing costs.

However, board officials said that no study has been conducted to see how many county households have Internet access, and that the change will initially cost more money rather than save money.

William Blum, the board's chief financial officer, said Sunday that all Washington County residents have Internet access at the county library if they don't have computers at home.

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While accessibility was cited as the primary reason for making the change, school board President Edward Forrest said increased efficiency and some savings also were factors.

Savings would come from reduced staff time and materials needed to print policies and agendas, he said.

Blum said that, with start-up expenses, the new system of posting public information will initially cost more.

Start-up costs totaled $12,403, which paid for nine laptop computers and wireless Internet access, according to board documents.

The board will pay $7,800 a year for the service, according to the document, making the first-year cost about $20,200

In a board document, Blum said the change will save the school system $5,193 a year.

Blum said Sunday he did not know the total cost of providing printed documents.

The board plans to make the change effective with its May 18 meeting.

The board voted 7-0 at its Jan. 6 meeting to use BoardDocs, a computer system that will enable anyone with Internet access to view the meeting agenda.

Forrest said he heard about BoardDocs during a meeting with the Maryland Association of Boards of Education meeting and liked the idea of paperless meetings.

School systems in Frederick and Carroll counties are among those who use the system.

Board members and staff members will be connected to the Internet using laptop computers during meetings, Shulamit Finkelstein, executive assistant for strategic planning and board and community relations, said Thursday.

Board policies will be accessible on the Internet at a later time, she said.

People who request printed copies of policies and other information will be directed to get the information through the Internet, Finkelstein said.

Those without Internet access are encouraged to use computers at the library or at a friend's house, she said.

The meeting agenda packet for the May 18 meeting will be available on the Internet on Friday, board spokeswoman Carol Mowen said.

The May 4 board meeting was intended to be the last meeting at paper agenda packets would be distributed, she said. That meeting was used as a test, with printed documents available in the event of technical problems. There were a few minor problems, Finkelstein said.

The meeting agenda will be shown on a large screen in the meeting room, she said.

Mowen was asked Thursday what will happen if someone without Internet access attends a meeting and wants to see the agenda information. She said that has not been determined.

"If someone attending the meeting wants additional information, he or she could request information via the public information office or board office and the info could be sent/faxed," Mowen said in an e-mail.

Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan on Sunday said administrators probably will bring a few copies of the agenda packet to meetings in case someone needs to see it. It is best plan for people to look at the information prior to the meeting, Morgan said.

During the May 4 test of the system, the board meeting started 15 minutes late as board members tried to use the laptop computers in front of them to navigate the agenda information online.

Forrest said there will be some transition time as board members get used to the systems, but they will adapt.




To get agenda online


How to get to the Washington County Board of Education meeting information online:

1. Go on the Internet to www.wcboe.k12.md.us/content/boe_updates.cfm

2. Click on link marked "BoardDocs."

3. Download Adobe Reader software, if your computer does not already have it.

4. Click on the items of interest.

Answers to frequently asked questions about the software are available at www.boarddocs.com/mabe/wcps/Board.nsf/Public?OpenFrameSet

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