The Lakeville school board is toying with the idea of videotaping its work sessions, the informal meetings where board members learn about and casually discuss issues, but don't vote on them.
Lakeville school board member Jim Skelly is pushing the board to consider taping them, after raising the issue during his re-election campaign last fall. It will provide more transparency, giving community members another chance to tune in if they missed the initial meeting, he said.
"I think it's 2015 and we have the technology to do it," Skelly said. "I can see no downsides to doing it."
Lakeville, along with most metro-area districts, already records its regular meetings, which residents can watch on cable TV or online. However, most districts, with the exception of a few like Farmington and Anoka-Hennepin, don't tape work sessions.
Several Lakeville school board members are on the fence about recording the work sessions. They are concerned that being recorded will change the tone of the sessions, making board members — and anyone presenting at them — speak with less candor.
"There's some people who don't want them taped," Skelly said.
Several board members said the public might be confused and disappointed when an off-the-cuff idea doesn't materialize.
"I have no problem with them being taped or online or whatever," said Board Member Judy Keliher. "My concern is rumor control."
If the sessions were taped, she said, the board might need to change the structure of meetings to help the public understand the process.
"I think it's the confusion that could happen. … We're just talking about possible ideas, you know what I mean?" said board chair Michelle Volk.
Burnsville-Eagan-Savage, too, is discussing whether to tape work sessions, said board member Bob VandenBoom. However, it's likely not all sessions would be taped, just those related to students' academic performance or other topics relevant to residents.
"It's something we want to do," he said. "I think board members want the public to understand the conversations that the board is having, beyond business meetings."
None of the other six south metro districts are considering taping their work sessions.
In West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan, board member Mark Spurr said he wouldn't support taping them, because it could be "inhibiting" for council members and lead to incomplete conversations.
Most city councils do not tape work sessions, either. Burnsville is one exception.
Cost and convenience
In Lakeville, the board has now discussed taping work sessions, which other districts call study sessions, workshops or learning sessions, at two meetings. No decision has been made, in part because the taping issue is related to the question of where meetings should be held and how much taping them might cost.
Regular Lakeville school board meetings are held at City Hall, where all the equipment to record them already exists. But that more formal setup isn't conducive to the conversational nature of work sessions, several board members said. The board has been holding work sessions at Crystal Lake Education Center.
The board is investigating the cost and feasibility of taping work sessions at other locations, from Crystal Lake Education Center to one of the high schools.
If they are going to buy new video equipment, it should be for students' use first, then the board's use, Skelly said.
The question of how much trouble and cost taping work sessions would be is something Burnsville will consider, VandenBoom said.
As an alternative, Volk has suggested recording the audio for a podcast residents could listen to via the Internet.
'You can't go back'
Skelly, who has worked in communications for the city of Burnsville and the Farmington school district, said that the board should prioritize open communication, especially since the group was accused of an open meeting law violation in December.
Taping the meetings might encourage participation and help residents keep up with school district issues, Skelly added.
But Volk brought up a situation encountered by the Bloomington school board, which has taped work sessions for the previous two school years. Several months ago, a group of new board members decided they no longer wanted them taped, putting a moratorium on taping until next fall when they will discuss it again, spokesman Rick Kaufman said.
Going back on a decision to tape them wouldn't look good, Volk said: "Once you do it, you can't go back."
Skelly said he is on the verge of taking matters into his own hands, creating a podcast and making it available online if the board doesn't take action.
"I said it during my campaign, so I can't back down on that," he said. "I believe in it so I'm going to advocate for it."