Focus: Board Governance

Paperless School Board Meetings

by RON SAUNDERS

Where were you when they took away the electric typewriters and replaced them with personal office computers? It was early into my first superintendency, and it was not a pretty sight for many secretaries and clerical personnel. I dare you to bring back those typewriters and take away their PCs in today’s tech-driven workplace.

Now school boards across the nation are headed toward a similar revolution, termed “paperless board meetings.” No more thick binders or intimidating piles of paper for meeting agendas. No more hunting for past history of board meeting minutes amid stacks of documents. The contemporary board of education meeting is all electronic.

Ron SaundersRon Saunders


In Barrow County, Ga., we approached this transition more sanely than what unfolded during the “taking of the typewriters” period. First, a front team composed of the superintendent’s secretary, support technology personnel and the Georgia School Boards Association’s eBOARD solutions personnel pursued extensive professional learning about the product.

Second, demonstrations and then on-site testing were conducted several times before the superintendent was even brought in on the details. Because I previewed the paperless approach firsthand when it was introduced initially to the superintendents in Georgia at a professional meeting, I knew if it was to be successful, the new process would need my full backing and direction.

Hand Holding
Our first paperless school board meeting was on Aug. 2, 2005. Over the first few months we had informal training after each meeting until all board members felt comfortable with the new process. We helped each other, and the board members were determined to never turn back. The executive staff members who were accustomed to providing board items in paper form also received training, which brought them quickly on board. They now must submit all agenda items electronically one week in advance of the weekly board of education work sessions.

The paperless system for board meetings has made all of us more efficient and succinct in our presentations. The audience at the board meetings can view the agenda and supporting documents on overhead screens as they are being discussed in the boardroom. On a side note, before we went paperless, one of our board members would walk into the meeting and say it looked like we had killed a tree because there were so many papers and handouts. That is no longer an accurate depiction of the scene.

I recently needed to determine the dates we had presented a program to our board members. With eBOARD it took only seconds to pull a list of meetings in which the program in question was discussed along with all the documents that were provided to the board. Previously, it would have taken us hours to pull all the material together again.

In 2005, we also went paperless with our Barrow County Board of Education policy manual, which previously was stored in two large binders at the board office and then duplicated for every school principal and media center across the system. With the paperless policy manual, we no longer have to flip through hundreds of pages looking for the desired policy.

Changes to policies are made directly through eBOARD with copies sent to the Georgia School Boards Association for review and posted to the website for public input. Responses from the public then can be added through an e-mail link. Board members can see the original policy as well as the recommended changes. Once adopted, the final policy is easily updated, and a history of prior versions and dates is maintained.

In addition, exhibits and forms can be linked through our paperless system, which has an excellent search engine to find items. The program enables us to search other Georgia school systems’ policy manuals, which is helpful when board members and staff members are developing new or revised policies. The paperless system ensures we have access to the most current policies.

Positive Embrace
Implementing the paperless system has been a journey of more than three years. We have had some bumps in the road (technical snafus and the changing of mindsets) along the way. However, with my emphasis as superintendent that we all head in the same direction, we are all on board.

I admit I was pleasantly surprised at how many staff members and school board members grasped the program positively and ran with it.

Claire Miller, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, has discovered cost savings in her areas of responsibility. “In the past, I provided [the board] with voluminous notebooks with curriculum, instruction and assessment information. Now, each board member can view the same information in an electronic format and save us the cost of purchasing notebooks, making copies and binding,” she says. “It is also much more efficient.”

I know for certain we are not going back to all that paper.

Ron Saunders is superintendent of the Barrow County Schools in Winder, Ga. E-mail: rsaunders@barrow.k12.ga.us