Originally created 10/14/02

Board's agenda is going digital



The Columbia County Board of Education is looking at a new way of conducting its meetings.

Board members will soon use laptop computers, scanners and smartboards - display boards that interface with computers - to cut down on the paperwork each trustee receives for each meeting. The start-up cost is expected to be no more than $21,251, said Tommy Price, the county's school superintendent.

At least part of the board's Oct. 22 meeting in Appling will be conducted with the new technology, he said.

For each of the group's two monthly meetings, information packets for board members can be several inches thick. Finding room to store that paperwork is a challenge, said Wayne Bridges, the board chairman.

Trustee Regina Buccafusco agreed.

"The amount of paper is just tremendous," she said. "It would be so easy after the meeting to store and archive it. The way it is now, you could fill up a room just after a year."

The switch to an electronic meeting format has taken more than a year to implement. Each board member must be equipped with a laptop computer and an Internet connection at home.

Information will be e-mailed or provided on disk. Some board members are more computer literate than others, and training will be involved to bring everyone up to speed, said Bill Morris, the assistant superintendent.

During the meeting, the laptops will be connected to a smartboard that will display the information. The information transmitted during the meeting will be controlled by a central operator.

With the technology and the ability of board members to swap information electronically comes questions about the board's opportunity to hold virtual meetings without public scrutiny.

David E. Hudson, The Augusta Chronicle's attorney and an expert in communications law, said the potential for abuse will be no greater than before.

"As long as proper notice is given, the public is given a means to observe and proper minutes are kept, I see no legal obstacle of meeting electronically," he said. "The risk of 'virtual' meetings is probably less than by phone hook-up when public and press are not notified or given a chance to listen in."

Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113, or melhall@augustachronicle.com.