The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA)
Posted to: Education Virginia Beach
By Lauren Roth
November 13, 2009
After years of toting binders stuffed with reams of paper to School Board meetings, board members are switching to sleek laptops.
"If we're pushing our students and teachers to move into the 21st century, to use all the new technology, then we should do it ourselves," said board member Sandra Smith-Jones, a longtime proponent of online board documents.
The move is costing money up front but should lead to savings on printing, paper and delivery, school officials said. It cost $6,170 to provide laptops to nine board members and clerk Dianne Alexander. The other two board members had compatible laptops.
In the current fiscal year, the school division has spent $3,645 to print board packets. That total doesn't include the costs of a driver to drop materials at board members' homes or the costs for smaller in-house print jobs, spokeswoman Kathy O'Hara said.
Over the past few weeks, board members have gradually switched from folders to computers during board meetings.
Board vice chairwoman Rita Sweet Bellitto said the days of spending hours searching through sheaves of paper to find a document are over.
"It'll take me a while to get used to it," she said of accessing board documents online. "In the long run, it'll be more efficient than what we've been doing."
Every year, more school boards in Virginia and nationwide transfer their operations online.
Norfolk's School Board uses the online system BoardDocs, which has seen its number of subscribing boards increase by nearly 50 percent a year, said Michael Hanahan, chief marketing and sales officer for the company.
Stephen Tonelson, chairman of the Norfolk School Board, said going online has allowed the school system to be more transparent, giving easy public access to information on upcoming and past board meetings.
"There's more information more easily available," he said. Suffolk School Board members also use online agendas. In Chesapeake and Portsmouth, the boards use paper.
In the Beach, changes for the public have been minimal. For about seven years, the links to most parts of the agenda have been posted at www.vbschools.com. Now the full agenda packet is posted under a single link.
The biggest difference will be fewer stacks of paper kept in board members' homes.
"I have at least a room full of documents, binders and information," said Smith-Jones, a board member since 2000. "I was getting tired of those 5 - and 6 -inch binders."
Lauren Roth, (757) 222-5133, firstname.lastname@example.org