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September 2, 2015

CONWAY — The Conway School Board is embracing technology — at least for one day.

When the board meets on Monday, Sept. 14, board member Michelle Capozzoli won't physically be in the Professional Development Center at Kennett Middle School, but she be marked as present.

Capozzoli, who is teaching at the University of New Hampshire, will Skype her attendance at the school board meeting. In other words, she'll be attending remotely using software that provides video chat from computers, tablets or cellphones.

Now in her second year of a three-year term on the school board, Capozzoli informed her colleagues last month that a change in her schedule will make it difficult to attend meetings, which for the past three decades have taken place the second and fourth Mondays of each month.

Chairman Janine McLauchlan informed the board at its Aug. 10 meeting that a request had been made by a member to consider moving them from Mondays. But members opposed that idea.

At the Aug. 24 meeting, McLauchlan said Capozolli had asked whether she could attend meetings electronically for the fall semester.

"The board needs to have a discussion if a member can be allowed to do this on a one-time basis or more than this," McLauchlan said.

Superintendent Kevin Richard contacted the board's attorney — Matthew Upton, of the Drummond Woodsum law firm in Portland, Maine — to get a ruling on electronic board meetings.

"The board can (but is not required to) allow a member to appear electronically," he wrote Aug. 10. "There are number of requirements we can walk through to make sure it works. However, I think the board needs to first decide if it wants to accommodate the board member who wishes to appear by such means. I think it would be helpful for the board to know the reason and if it is going to be on multiple days on the dates in question.

Upton continued: "Every effort should be made to see if the board can work around conflicts to minimize the need for the member to appear electronically. Normally if it is a one-time time, the board chair would decide if it was OK. If it is going to occur on a repeated basis, the whole board should weigh in.

"Most districts that have used electronic participation have done it by speaker phone," Upton wrote. "There is no reason you can't use teleconferencing (Skype) so long as everyone in the audience can see and hear contemporaneously. You will likely have to project the computer screen so that the member is visible to the public. You will also likely have to have the audio amplified in some manner so the public can hear. Keep in mind that some teleconferencing systems have a buffer so that everything happens with a slight delay (which can be annoying when people end up talking over each other). I think that is why so many go with the speaker phone."

Board member Mark Hounsell suggested the board's policy committee should look at establishing a policy for electronic meetings. He made a motion for the committee to report back by the Sept. 14 meeting.

But he said: "Fundamentally, I don't like the idea. ... I have visions of the planet Krypton, and Jor-El (Superman's biological father) talking to a bunch of holograms. I don't like the idea of it, whether it be Dr. Capozzoli or myself. I just think there's something to being here in person at the meeting. I also believe in the value of Dr. Capozzoli being on the board is absolutely critical to the strategic planning process, but I need to make it clear I don't like it."

Joe Lentini, vice chair of the board, said he supports the use of Skype.

"As someone who frequently uses Skype for meetings," he said, "it's almost identical to them being in the room. It's like they are there, not like it's a speaker phone."

"We could get to the point where everyone is not in the room," colleague Syndi White said. "I think you have to be accessible for the board and the public. When you run for the board, I think you have to be present at meetings. I think (teleconferencing) may be OK once in awhile, but it shouldn't be a practice."

Board member John Skelton said he wasn't sure how the process would work but was willing to give it a try for one meeting.

Hounsell said under RSA 91-A (access to governmental records and meetings), business has to be conducted so the public and press can hear it.

"I don't know how this is going to work," he said. "It may be worth a try for one meeting, but I'm sorry, I don't like it."


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Related Professional

  • Matthew H. Upton

  • Related Practice Areas

  • School & Education
  • School Policy Analysis

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