Elgin Area School District U-46 school board members Monday night debated the merits of video-recording and broadcasting board meetings online or on public access television.
Officials with the state's second-largest school district, serving roughly 40,000 students and 11 communities, are still figuring out whether it's worth the cost of equipment and manpower needed to record meetings.
The district solicited bids from three vendors. Initial cost estimates range anywhere from $8,000 up to $200,000 with options ranging from just audio recording to audio/video recording meetings using either one or multiple cameras, officials said.
The lowest estimate for full audio/video recording meetings is $50,000 and could cost up to $100,000.
Board members agreed merely having audio recording of meetings is not enough and that the public would want to see the presentations.
However, none of those estimates factored in the cost of time spent by staff members producing the videos, officials said.
The board directed the administration to research the matter further and look into how other comparable districts handle recording public meetings.
Among the considerations is possibly using the district's Broadcast Education And Communications Networks Academy students to do the video production, initially as a project or as part of their coursework.
School board member Veronica Noland said it's a good idea for students throughout the district to be given the opportunity to develop such skills and help out the school district.
"We should be providing these meetings to the public on video, online," Noland said. "We are never going to engage the public until we do that."
Noland suggested looking at other options and pricing.
Among the options being considered is streaming meetings on the district's website.
Some members suggested the administration look into using Comcast public access channels to broadcast meetings.
Board member Traci O'Neal Ellis said broadcasting on Comcast shouldn't be ruled out, even though she is not in favor of the district having a dedicated channel for its programming.
Ellis said the district could start out with minimal upgrades and make improvements after gauging public response.
"What do we hope to gain, and how do we hope to measure (the benefit)?" board member Maria Bidelman asked, adding that the equipment alone could cost as much as a teacher's salary.
"Is this how the community wants their money to be spent?" she asked. "I think we're in a bit of a delusion that this is going to solve our engagement issues."
Noland said the district should look at purchasing the video equipment as a one-time investment in the future. Her greater concern is providing the public access to board meetings.
"It's a matter of transparency," she said. "We often get complaints that we are not transparent enough."