A former teacher and the teachers union are teaming up to ensure that Hawaii Board of Education meetings will continue to be videotaped for those who cannot attend.

For the past year and a half, former elementary school teacher Vanessa Ott, with the help of another volunteer, has taped almost all of the board’s general business and committee meetings and posted them to her website within a day or two.

Correction: An earlier version of this report stated the union planned to post meeting videos to its website within 24 hours.

However, she and her volunteer can’t attend every meeting. Now, with the Hawaii State Teachers Association’s help, the plan is to utilize the union’s network to gather more volunteers to help tape and post the videos on the union’s website.

Wide view Board of Education Meeting. 17 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The Board of Education has provided a live audio stream of all of its meetings since the start of 2015. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The hope is that Olelo, which tapes Honolulu City Council and neighborhood board meetings, would help train the volunteers in filming, but the meetings won’t be streamed live because the group would rely on each volunteer’s equipment, said Amy Perruso, secretary/treasurer for the union.

The idea is to increase community awareness of the decisions that are made at board meetings.

“I think most members of the public don’t understand how many decisions that affect their institutions are made at these meetings,” Perruso said.

The union will also create a YouTube channel specifically for the BOE videos and the plan is for the partnership to be up and running by the board’s Jan. 17 meeting.

“I think most members of the public don’t understand how many decisions that affect their institutions are made at these meetings.” — Amy Perruso, teachers union

Ott said she started taping the daytime meetings because they are held at times when teachers and community members are still at work. She said her videos have gotten up to 500 views a month.

“It seems terribly unfair to have board meetings when no one can go,” she said.

Perruso said board members have been asked several times over the years to hold their meetings in the evening.

While the board has provided live audio streams of its meetings since the beginning of 2015, Ott said that’s not sufficient. Testifiers and members don’t always speak into the microphone, and it can be difficult to know who is speaking at what time, she said.

She also started a Facebook group called BOE Watch, where there’s a petition calling on the board to post videos of its meetings on its own website. The group currently has about 120 members.

In September, Ott requested that the board either take ownership of providing and uploading the videos or work with volunteers to provide the service instead. Collaboration with volunteers would include allowing links to the videos to be available on the BOE website, providing a parking pass for volunteers and allowing the video equipment to remain in one location throughout meeting days.

However, the board does not have the money and staff to film and post its own videos, said Alison Kunishige, BOE executive director. She said there is a budget request for $5,000 to contract a professional company to tape the meetings, though whether this would include live-streams and how long the turnaround time would be to post the videos online would be discussed after a contract is awarded.

A similar request was submitted to the Legislature last session but was not approved.

Kunishige said the BOE did have a pilot project in which staff members used a webcam and live-streamed a video of a charter school review meeting, using the same online meeting application it uses for its audio streams, and people could call in to submit testimony remotely.

We’re looking into all these ways,” she said. “All the things we’ve been doing, they don’t cost anything more. We’ve been trying to use existing resources. And we’re kind of stretching ourselves as thin as we can because we only have three people in our office.”

Perruso said videotaping the meetings is a public service and should be funded by the Legislature. However, in the meantime, HSTA’s 13,500 members should be informed of what goes on at the meetings, she said.

“This cannot be a permanent solution,” she said. “It just shows the failure of our public institution.”

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