School board backs TV idea

Arundel will join systems in nearby jurisdictions that televise meetings

October 05, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

The Anne Arundel County school board will begin televising its meetings within a year, bringing the school system in step with surrounding counties, but not satisfying critics, who want the meetings aired on the district's Web site, too.

The idea has been brought before the board several times before. Members offered their support Wednesday after learning that the cost would be borne through fees already collected by cable companies.

Some board members continued to express concerns that additional funding could be needed or that the technology could soon become obsolete. Others said the initiative was overdue.

"We've got to start somewhere," said vice president Enrique M. Melendez, "and I think we need a presentation in the near future on how we get to the next step."

The next step, school officials said, could include meetings simulcast on the Internet and archived on the school system Web site, aacps.org.

Anne Arundel is the only regional jurisdiction that does not televise its school board meetings. In addition to Baltimore, those that do include Baltimore, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Howard, Harford, Montgomery, Prince George's and Queen Anne's counties. Some rebroadcast the meetings up to 10 times.

"This has always been on the forefront of the to-do list, but we want to put money back into the classrooms as much as possible," said board president Tricia Johnson.

The board's approval allows the school system to convey to cable companies its interest in obtaining the necessary funds to install broadcast and lighting equipment in the board meeting room.

Meetings will be shown on Comcast Cable and Millennium Channel 96 and Verizon Channel 36 no later than September 2008, officials said.

Like County Council meetings, school board meetings will be shown live and replayed several times over the next week, allowing busy parents interested in school decisions several opportunities to tune in.

Jim Snider, a telecommunications policy expert and former school board candidate, said televised meetings would empower those who can't attend meetings and improve democracy. In research papers, he has argued that a video record of a meeting is more accurate than meeting minutes and takes less time to prepare.

But he also reminded the board that the public is demanding more from the Internet. He said not all residents have cable TV but that all can access the Internet through public libraries.

"People want accessible information, when they want it," Snider told the board. "That is the future, and the system should be geared toward that."

Public meetings were televised starting in the 1960s and 1970s with the introduction of government access channels. A government access channel is one of three types of community access channels designated under the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984. Government bodies are allowed editorial control over their channels, unlike other public television channels.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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