BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ — Residents may soon be able to attend school board meetings from the comfort of their couch, or catch a replay of a meeting on GLTV or other service, if a proposal to live stream meetings is approved by the board. Locally, Mountainside, Summit, Millburn and the School District of the Chathams school boards broadcast their meetings, as do many other districts in the state.
Business Administrator Donna Felezzola’s presentation on the topic at the Sept. 26 Board of Education meeting covered the pros and cons of live streaming meetings, what steps the board needs to take to make it happen, the anticipated costs and the various options available.
If the board decides to go ahead with live streaming meetings, the meetings would be broadcast on the internet — either on YouTube or through another service. Recordings would be archived and available through the district website.
To implement the plan, Felezzola said the board would need to: change its Policy 0168; hire someone, probably a student from Governor Livingston High School, to record the meetings; spend about $2,000 for equipment; and decide which broadcasting program to use. The broadcasts could either be on the existing YouTube channel used by GLTV, which would not cost the district anything, or on a new Live Stream account at a cost of about $1,000 a year. The school district cannot share the existing Berkeley Heights’ Township LiveStream account because of issues with who would own the recordings and OPRA requirements, said Felezzola.
Currently, the meetings are not officially broadcast or recorded, although occasionally a resident will broadcast the meeting or the press might record a portion of a meeting and include the clip with an article.
Felezzola listed two “pros” for live streaming meetings. The first is the ability of residents who can’t attend a meeting to watch it at a more convenient time. The second is that “accurate, factual information will be available to a greater number of residents,” she said.
She listed only one “con,” – the “opportunity for grandstanding by meeting participants,” but during a discussion on the proposal, other possible negatives of live streaming were raised by board members.
Board Member Robert Cianciulli said he was concerned that students who speak at board meetings might become “targets for bullying.”
Board Member Denis Smalley said he worried if the board used students to record the meetings, they would be out late on a school night.
Some worried about the privacy of students who speak to the board students, most of whom would be minors.
Board Member Helen Kirsch reminded board members students no longer have to give their last names when speaking to the board. She also asked if there was pressure from the community to record and broadcast the meetings.
Board President Doug Reinstein said some residents have shown an interest in having the meetings broadcast. He was supported by Board Vice President Bill Cassano who said people have told him they can’t get to the meetings and would like to see them broadcast.
Board Member Dante Gioia, who represents Mountainside on the board, said his experience in Mountainside is that when the meetings are broadcast board members get “more feedback,” from residents. “Once in a blue moon” someone uses the platform to grandstand but over all, “I think it’s a good thing,” to record the meetings, he said.
Board Member Chris Reilly said she is in favor of “getting the information out there,” for the public.
Overall, the board seemed to support the idea of recording the meetings and Felezzola said she would gather more information about how to implement a program and what rules apply.