Peekskill-Cortlandt Patch (New York)
Computer-generated Agendas are Expected to Save Money and Trees
By Tom Bartley
September 14, 2012
Joining a growing campaign to reduce or eliminate paper waste, Hendrick Hudson schools have rolled out a computerized approach to document handling.
It will be seen most immediately in the electronic agendas that accompany every meeting of the HenHud school board. At the board’s first meeting since schools opened for the 2012-13 academic year Wednesday, President Mary-Pat Briggi put the new system’s final cost to the district at about $1,500 a year. But, she said, given the expected savings in time, energy and paper, “I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that we will get that money back.”
The district’s tech-savvy new interim superintendent, Dr. Brian Monahan, congratulated the board, technology director Mathew Swerdloff and district clerk Rosanne Squillante for adopting the system. Called BoardDocs, it’s expected to save not only money but natural resources. “If you dropped by the district office in years past—[on] the Friday before a board meeting—you could literally hear the trees fall,” he deadpanned. “This will be a real savings,” he said, “and make them (the board agendas and other material) more accessible to the public.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, which spanned less than 20 minutes, Monahan also announced that the district’s proposed approach to annual staff evaluations—the state’s mandated Annual Professional Performance Review—had been given Albany’s blessing. “Our teachers worked very hard with our assistant superintendent [Alice Gottlieb] on APPR,” Monahan said. The state Education Department’s formal approval arrived in Tuesday’s mail, he said, “So, that is certainly good news.
The BoardDocs system is expected to help with a different Albany mandate. An addition to the state’s open-meetings law this year requires local governing bodies like a school board to make available to the public not only a meeting’s agenda but also, to the extent it can be accomplished, the paperwork under discussion at the meeting. Without such supporting material, lawmakers reasoned, audience members might find the governing body’s discussion difficult or impossible to follow. At a minimum, that would violate the spirit of the open-meetings law, which is meant to foster greater transparency.
Accomplishing the new law’s goals with paper copies, however, could become prohibitively expensive, so a growing number of public bodies, especially school districts, have tapped BoardDocs and its inexhaustible supply of cyberspace electrons. “I know it (the BoardDocs approach) is becoming more and more popular,” board president Briggi said.
Emerald Data Solutions of Marietta, Ga., which makes BoardDocs, claims at least 15,000 registered users for the technology. It’s priced at roughly $2,500 a year. With the Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services picking up 40 percent of that tab, however, the bottom-line cost to HenHud schools drops to about $1,500.
Meeting agendas and the backup material will be available on the district website. In addition, Trustee Charles Thompson pointed out Wednesday, anyone with a 3-G connection will be able to attend board meetings and access the paperwork via tablet or smartphone.
For the time being, Briggi said, “you’ll still get paper ... but our goal is get completely away from it.”