Milton School District getting better at live streaming board meetings

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Jake Magee
Friday, August 26, 2016

MILTON—The Milton School District has improved how it live streams its school board meetings in the four months since deciding to do so, officials told The Gazette.

The Milton School Board started live streaming its meetings and archiving the videos on YouTube shortly after a resident brought a video camera to a meeting in April, prompting a member to express concern. The board adjourned early that night.

Recording meetings is a popular way for the district to get information to the public. While recorded meetings don't necessarily increase the district's transparency and accountability, they allow residents to watch what happens in meetings in context, Communications Supervisor Jerry Schuetz said.

“I never thought the video camera builds trust. What we do every day builds trust,” he said.

Board meetings are held in the professional development center at the district office. The room is used for presentations, staff training and as a classroom, so the district already was considering buying a sound system for the center.

The decision to live stream meetings sped up that effort, and the district bought an almost-$20,000 sound system that will be used for more than just board meetings, Superintendent Tim Schigur said.

The board's first few meetings were recorded with an 8- to 10-year-old camera and streamed through Google's free Hangouts service. The camera and a snowball mic were placed at the front of the room, and early videos show a grainy picture quality.

Technology Supervisor Ed Snow was at a conference when he saw something called a PadCast. The $400 device houses an iPad and features an external mic and a lens that zooms in the iPad's camera. The district began using it and an iPad and now gets a higher-quality picture and sound, Schuetz said.

Using an iPad and a free streaming application meant the district could abandon Google Hangouts. It's now slightly easier to get videos onto YouTube and the district website, he said.

When the YouTube meeting videos sparked complaints about low volume, the district started experimenting with microphones. At first, board members passed a couple of mics back and forth. The board's Aug. 8 meeting was the first time every board member had a microphone.

The district also is experimenting with camera angles. Early streams required the camera to be close enough to the board members for the snowball mic to pick up their voices. With the current microphones, the district has more freedom.

For the Aug. 8 meeting, administrators placed the camera in the back of the room so it could see the board, the audience and speakers without having to pan the room.

“We really have worked hard to refine the system to make sure the people who are watching it … can not only see what's going on, but can hear the discussions going on …” Schuetz said.

The technology isn't without hiccups.

When district officials first began streaming, they had to pause a meeting when the stream had to be rebooted.

When two mics were used, one sometimes didn't work, requiring Schigur to circulate the working mic around the room.

At the Aug. 8 meeting, the board members' wireless mics were giving feedback, so they had to drop the volume to about 65 percent. With some tweaking, that can be raised to 75 percent, Schuetz said.

Recording meetings hasn't required a huge time commitment, he said.

“I wouldn't say it's been a massive time investment, but I would say we call it an investment in ensuring we're using this medium to make sure those who can't attend the meetings find out and learn about what happens,” Schuetz said.

Viewership ranges from three people to 15 for important meetings. Staff members who are out of town sometimes watch live meetings, Schigur said.

Archived meeting videos have gotten dozens to hundreds of views.

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