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  • Writer's pictureEvie Sijl

County school board to consider audio recordings

Members voted 5-2 against video recordings of their meetings



A member of the Santa Barbara County Board of Education is surprised with the board’s 5-2 vote on May 5 against video-recording of their meetings and posting those videos for public access.


But another member, board chair Judy Frost, said the issue isn’t “dead in the water” and that it’s a matter of logistics and costs.

For now, the board has compromised with the consideration of audio recordings.


The board will discuss options for audio recordings at its meetings at 2 p.m. today and 10 a.m. June 9 at the county education office, 4400 Cathedral Oaks Road.

On May 5, board members Michelle De Ward, and Bruce Porter voted in favor of video recordings.


“I was surprised that the majority of the board voted no, when we had the tools to provide it at a very low cost,” Ms. De Ward told the News-Press.


The school board meetings take place on the first Thursday of the month at 2 p.m., a time when most people are working. This presents an accessibility issue, which is why the motion to record and retain meetings was originally brought up.


Ms. Frost told the News-Press that she voted against the video recordings, not because she is against them per se, but because she believed that the board did not have enough information at the time.


“We had no idea what it was going to take as far as resources and budget, or options and issues,” said Ms. Frost.


After the vote against the recordings, Mr. Porter moved “that the superintendent work with her staff to provide the board with options to audio-record the meetings,” as stated in the minutes. The motion passed unanimously.


“The reason I made the motion is because I thought we do need to be transparent and that maybe a middle ground was audio recordings and held that out as a hope that it would be satisfactory to the majority of board members,” Mr. Porter told the News-Press.


Ms. Frost said, “It remains to be seen where it will go, but we are moving forward. The vote didn’t make it dead in the water. I’m disappointed that it came across that way. We aren’t done.”


During the May 5 discussion, one of the concerns brought up by a board member, was political grandstanding.


“We have seen a history of this in school board meetings, but I believe that if you have the proper procedures set in place in advance with concise guidelines for public comment you can potentially avoid disorderly board rooms,” said Ms. De Ward.


A board member referenced recent comments from Sen. Ben Sasse, R.-Neb., in the Wall Street Journal in which he warns against putting cameras in the Supreme Court.


“Cameras change human behavior … We should recognize the jackassery we often see around here is people mugging for short-term camera opportunities,” Sen. Sasse told the WSJ.

Ms. Frost said she wouldn’t anticipate a problem in that regard with board members, based on her experience in working with them.


“But I have seen videos of the Supreme Court and of Congress, of people taking advantage of the spotlight,” Ms. Frost said. “I don’t see it happening with this board, but it could. I don’t know how people are going to behave when the spotlight is on them.”


Mr. Porter conceded grandstanding could be a problem, but said he doesn’t recall any instances of grandstanding during his eight years on the board of the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District.


“I think the issue of grandstanding is just not valid,” said Mr. Porter.


The News-Press asked Mr. Porter what his reaction was to a board member comparing a county school board meeting to the U.S. Supreme Court: “I think that it is pretty far-fetched. There are many levels of government between our school board and the Supreme Court including state and county government. The Supreme Court is well covered by reporters of all different types of media so that even though sessions aren’t recorded there are plenty of records of what was said and what was done.”


“No members of the public are asking for this,” was another objection to the proposal.


Ms. De Ward said she went on social media and posted the question to several groups in Orcutt and Guadalupe: “Do you think SBCEO board meetings should be video-recorded and posted on the education office’s website?”


“Every response was ‘Yes of course, why aren’t they?’: Ms. De Ward said. “I did not get a response that didn’t think they should be recorded … I notified the board that I had gone to social media to take a poll and informed the board that positive feedback was received.”

Noted Mr. Porter, “I haven’t heard a taxpayer or citizen ask to tape a meeting, but I think that in large part that is due to a huge part of the county residents not even knowing our board exists.”


An objecting board member said that: “In the past 20 years, there has never been a problem.”

The News-Press asked the board members if they had experienced any issues during their time on the board.


“I wouldn’t say issues, but I think that the county board of education is one of the least known and least understood organs of government in our county,” Mr. Porter said. “And the very fact that it is not recorded and maintained is one of those reasons. In this day and age, any person in government and serving the public needs to be as transparent as possible.


“In an age where reporters are thinly spread, I think it is even more important that meetings are recorded so that constituents can watch,” said Mr Porter.


Christy Lozano, who’s running against Dr. Susan Salcido, the county superintendent of schools in the June 7 primary, told the News-Press, “Isn’t it crazy that an important government agency with a $100 million budget and such terrible educational outcomes recently voted 5 to 2 to make it difficult for the public to see what they are doing? Many parents can’t attend SBCEO board meetings because they are scheduled in the afternoon on a weekday. Even reporters don’t have the time to cover these meetings.


“Putting these public meetings online makes infinite sense,” Ms. Lozano said. “After all, our education system belongs to the people of this county, not those who hide from public view.


As superintendent of schools, I would have challenged the board and made a formal recommendation that all meetings are recorded and the recordings (be) organized so the public can easily search specific issues. If elected, I will do that and as I’ve said before, ‘If the board does not want to bring cameras into the boardroom, I’ll bring in my own.’ I’m known for making videos that people actually want to see.


“The SBCEO should be leading by example,” Ms. Lozano said. “The local school districts record and post their board meetings. Why not the county board?”

Dr. Salcido also commented on the issue of recordings.


“The Santa Barbara County Board of Education, in its deliberation, began considering options for recording meetings at its May 5, 2022 meeting. The board voted and requested that I come back to the June 2, 2022, board meeting with options for audio recording and posting of board meetings,” Dr. Salcido told the News-Press in an email. “The board is still considering its options. Many County Education Offices across the state and nation are looking at these same considerations.


“The board had a healthy discussion on this topic and on their commitment to ensuring public access to each meeting. They will act on June 2, 2022,” Dr. Salcido said.


Since Ms. de Ward was elected in 2020, minutes from each meeting are now posted on the SBCEO website.


“I just believe that we are accountable as elected officials to serve students, the community and the taxpayers, and therefore we should be as accessible and as open as possible,” Ms. De Ward said.


“I think with the board that we oversee a $104 million budget of taxpayer dollars. It seems to me that this shouldn’t even have been a decision, it should have been automatic. We should always have been recording our meetings,” said Ms. De Ward.


While minutes from each meeting are posted, this is not a word for word accounting of who said what.


Minutes from previous meetings can be accessed at sbceo.org/site/Default.aspx?PageID=1541.

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