Focus

The Practicality of an Electronic Board Agenda

by Jesse Register

School boards often take action and set policy that mandates changing the way we in education do business. Rarely during meetings is the full school board able to lead by example.

 

The use of an electronic board-meeting agenda provides credibility when asking teachers and other staff to incorporate technology in all areas of school business and instruction.

School board members demonstrated their commitment to our technology program in Hamilton County, Tenn., when they agreed to use laptop computers to access the monthly agenda information packet. The district provided each board member with a laptop computer, which soon improved communications between board members and the administration.

As superintendent, I began electronic delivery of my weekly board updates. Once board members became comfortable trading information via e-mail, the paperless board meeting seemed a natural next step. This allowed the board to lead by example at the same time our system was putting a technology plan into place.

Hiring a professional programmer or technology consultant or even purchasing specialized software is not necessary when going electronic. Assign the project to a competent, dedicated and committed staff member. The superintendent must support the staff and be committed to seeing it through.

Phased-In Process

Using the school system's word processing software, you can develop an electronic agenda report that is user friendly and looks so much like your hard copy agenda that it is not intimidating even to board members who are new to technology. By using your current word processing software, little additional employee training is required for implementation.

Not everyone will welcome the idea initially and you can expect some to dig in their heels. A short phase-in period using both paper and electronic versions simultaneously proved successful in our case and helped everyone rise to an acceptable comfort level before we discontinued hard copies of agenda packets.

Today the board meeting packet is given to everyone, including the media, on a CD-ROM. We are considering a Web-based delivery of the agenda and support materials early in 2002.

Once our plan was in place, one board member sent a note stating, "Thank you for dragging us kicking and screaming into the 21st century." At that point, we knew our efforts had paid off. After only a few meetings we were all pointing and clicking as if we had always done it this way.

Time Efficiencies

The electronic agenda packet has resulted in savings in resources, the most costly being time. Final organization and compilation of the agenda packet continues to be handled by the executive assistant to the board, using information developed and submitted by the departments.

The system has changed from two agenda cabinet meetings to one per month for 7-10 high-level staff, and no longer must clerks and secretaries wait their turn at photocopying machines to print stacks of information on agenda delivery day. While we are using less paper and fewer copier supplies, the major benefit is a more productive use of employee time.

Each department is accountable for providing accurate information by using electronic safeguards and procedures that are much the same as with development of a hard packet.

Board members offer their own ideas for improving navigation and other particulars of the electronic packet and we have adopted those suggestions, often by the next board meeting. This evidence shows that the board is taking ownership of their electronic agenda.

With our county in the midst of an extensive facilities program, we soon will be able to provide virtual tours to update the board on the status of school construction and renovation without incurring the expense of arranging site visits.

Other possibilities include providing big-screen viewing of agenda material at public meetings; enabling board members to communicate electronically during the actual meetings; and providing immediate access to department staff and to the Web for research during board work sessions. Electronic voting at board meetings also is a consideration.

Jesse Register is superintendent of the Hamilton County Department of Education, 6703 Bonny Oaks Drive, Suite 200-1, Chattanooga, TN 37321. E-mail: bates_ann@hcde.org. Ann Bates, executive assistant to the board, helped with this article.