To stream or not to stream? D161 explores continuation of virtual meetings

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To stream or not to stream? D161 explores continuation of virtual meetings

May 31, 2021 - 21:31
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The Flossmoor School District 161 Board of Education is looking at the possibility of bolstering its audio and video capabilities for the purpose of streaming events, such as its board meetings.

The goal is to provide coverage at a higher quality for the community, following some audio issues with recent meetings. But questions of ADA compliance and how else the technology might be used left board members unsure about how they want to proceed until they get more information.

Superintendent Dana Smith presented for discussion on Tuesday, May 25, a proposal to sign a contract with Xorco Technology for $31,036.29 that would see the addition of nine wireless tabletop microphones, a charging cradle and wall speakers, as well as a Zoom control system computer, video camera and more for streaming capabilities at Normandy Villa School, the district's administration center and site of the board’s meetings.

Smith noted the contract compared favorably to other quotes that ranged from $45,000 to $75,000.

“This is a Chevy; this is not a Porsche,” Smith said.

“This might be a Kia,” Board Member Christina Vlietstra quipped.

Smith said while the cost remains a consideration, “this will not break the bank.”

He also told the board that there is an Americans with Disabilities Act requirement that states if the board provides content for streaming, it must provide closed captioning. While he did not provide a specific package to the board for closed captioning, he said it on average costs $3 to $4 per minute. Several board members noted some meetings go on for two hours , so those costs could add up quickly.

“If we stream, we must do those things,” Smith said. “We have to know what those costs are.”

Smith noted that when District 161 first started offering virtual access to its meetings during the pandemic, it sometimes saw 100 or more virtual attendees. But that has dropped to between 25 and 35 people for the past few meetings, in part because the topics addressed have not been the same and in part because people may have been deterred by the audio issues, Smith said.

Board Member David Linnear said he does not support adding more strain on the budget when people have the opportunity now to come hear the board meetings in person. But it was suggested the community could let District 161 know if streaming is something they want.

Vlietstra had questions about the various costs compared to the benefits of such a system.

“I don’t want to cut that connectivity off … but I want to be fiscally responsible,” Vlietstra said.

Board Member Aracelis Janelle Scharon asked if the board could use Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund money to pilot a program and see how well it works. But she also wondered if the system being building-specific might be a limitation.

“There are areas we can apply this technology outside of 7 p.m.,” Smith suggested. “It really is a transparency piece.”

Board Member Misha Blackman said she thinks people want access, based on a survey that was conducted during the pandemic. But she noted there might be other opportunities to utilize the technology.

“Let’s not limit it to just thinking about the board, because it’s such a bigger scope,” she said. “If there is a way to think about it just a little bit more to see if we can accommodate our community ... I would like to at least think about it.”

Sharon also asked Smith to look into closed captioning services that factor in various languages of translation in closed captioning. Smith said he would try to find numbers for that, as well, before the next discussion.