Starting later this summer, the public should be able to listen to state Board of Education meetings from anywhere in the state, a step that transparency advocates say is an improvement but still falls short of making the meetings truly accessible.

The BOE’s plans for audio broadcasts of meetings come a few months after the state Senate passed a resolution calling on the BOE to televise its meetings or post them online.

“It’s a matter of openness and accountability,” said Vanessa Ott, a former teacher who created the Facebook group BOE Watch earlier this year.  “We have the geographical limitations of Hawaii, but if we use modern technology people can at least see what happens at the meeting.”

Ott and BOE Watch are pushing for the BOE to post archivable video of its meetings online. The group is currently trying to get a meeting with Gov. David Ige to ask for his support.

Wide view Board of Education Meeting. 17 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Board of Education members during a June meeting in Honolulu.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Hawaii is the only state to have a single school district and Board of Education, which can make access to decision-makers a challenge for parents and educators outside of Honolulu.

Staff members have been working to improve BOE transparency and accessibility this year by adding more information to items on the meeting agendas and making the meeting minutes more descriptive, said BOE Executive Director Alison Kunishige.

The BOE is also making an effort to post supporting documents online along with meeting agendas, so that people can have the information they need to submit testimony ahead of time, said Kunishige, who started with the BOE in February.

For broadcasting meetings, the BOE is currently experimenting with a program that would allow the public to listen to meetings online, through an app on phones, or by calling a number — similar to participating in a teleconference.

Broadcasting audio would not require the BOE to purchase any new programs or equipment, Kunishige said.

Staff members expect to have the system up and running by August or September, Kunishige said. To begin with, the audio would only be available for live-streaming, and not stored for later access.

That’s a problem, said Ott, pointing out that the meetings are held in the early afternoon during the week.

“Anyone who has  a job will not be able to listen and participate, so it doesn’t solve that problem,” Ott said.  “An archive that people can go back and review I think is a much more important priority than getting a way for them to listen in real time.”

Ott, who videotaped several meetings and posted them on YouTube earlier this year, said the solution doesn’t need to be complicated. She points to several school districts on the mainland that post board meeting videos on YouTube.

Olelo Community Media also partners with numerous agencies and public boards to broadcast meetings in Hawaii on public access television. It does not charge government agencies for the service, and videos of the meetings are typically archived online for at least six months.

Kunishige said she is starting to look at options for archiving the audio and videotaping at least some meetings, but said that there are a lot of considerations — including staffing, equipment and storage capabilities.

“We have to be very cognizant of costs,” Kunishige said. “We are not going to go out and buy things. We are looking to use the things we have and the labor we have and not make taxpayers pay for anything more.”

About the Author