S.F. parents to Board of Education: Smile, you’re on candid camera 

Until now, when city parents wanted to get a peak at San Francisco’s school board in action, they had to show up in person for a meeting that often went on long past their children’s bedtimes.

The bimonthly meetings are aired live on public radio station KALW-FM for those who wanted to tune in at home, but since the broadcasts are aired without commentary, listeners miss telling details, such as the facial expressions of the public and the board members, posters that protesters would hold up during the meetings and PowerPoint presentations.

That’s about to change. Starting Tuesday, when the school board convenes for the first meeting of the new school year, cameras will be in place to capture the proceedings.

Although the meetings will not be aired live initially, parents and others interested in The City’s public schools will be able to watch scheduled broadcasts on The City’s SFGTV cable station or through streaming video on computers.

Funding for the equipment needed to tape and broadcast the meetings will come from city taxpayer dollars, a $130,000 allocation that was championed by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, a former San Francisco school board member. The school district has committed to earmarking $26,000 annually to pay for the necessary staffing — from The City’s Department of Technology and Internet Services — to keep the program up and running.

The school board’s first meeting next Tuesday will have its first airing on SFGTV on Friday, Aug. 11, at noon and a replay on Sunday, Aug.13, at 1 p.m., according to SFGTV Operations Manager Jack Chin. Live coverage will be possible once The City installs the necessary robotic cameras and fiber-optic cables, but a timeline for when that work will be done has not yet been finalized, he said.

Board of Education President Norman Yee said he didn’t think the new technology would make much of a difference in terms of parent participation in the district, adding that in light of the district’s tight budget, he’d "rather put the resources in the classroom." He did think that the cameras might change the board’s decorum, however, which has occasionally fallen out of line during heated debates.

"It might be helpful, in the long run, when people are aware that people will see them on TV, they may be even more respectful of each other’s opinions," Yee said.

beslinger@yahoo.com

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Bonnie Eslinger

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