Steamboat school board meetings will remain virtual for the foreseeable future

The Steamboat Springs School Board will continue to hold meetings in a virtual format for the foreseeable future as a plan to move meetings to Steamboat Springs Middle School will take time to adjust.

The district is pursuing a move to the college to allow for a larger audience that was already difficult to fit into the district office meeting room on Seventh Street. Board members also highlight some of their recent virtual meetings that dozens of people have logged in to attend.

But as other government agencies have returned to face-to-face meetings that still allow virtual participation, district CTO Tim Miles said several hurdles would need to be overcome to make these meetings possible.

“When the board member speaks, he comes out of the room speakers and then that sound goes back into the microphone,” Miles said. “It causes reverberation, like a circle.”

When Miles briefed the board on the issues at a meeting earlier this month, members said it made sense to maintain the status quo for the time being until a solution in which Miles was confident either in place.

“The last thing we want to do is create a situation where we have meetings that fail or are unproductive due to technology issues,” Board member Chresta Brinkman said at that meeting.

There are other issues as well, Miles said, such as how a visual presentation is displayed live while being presented in a way that is easy to view online. Trying to allow people to participate in Zoom at home while the board meets in person is another hurdle, he said.

“Can these be overcome? Yes, ”said Miles. “But you have to spend time on audio with qualified audio specialists to do it and do it right.”

The Steamboat School Board is the only elected body in the county that does not hold its meetings at least partially in person at this time, as school boards in other districts, each city council or town council, and the Routt County Board of Commissioners have all resumed their meetings. with the public and elected representatives physically present.

The heart of the matter for the Steamboat district is trying to make these meetings accessible to as many people as possible while balancing the desire to return to a meeting where people can attend and participate in person.

The first school board meetings could be in-person in November or December, depending on when Miles plans to get some of the microphones and other tech he has ordered specifically for the meetings. With his current equipment, Miles said he could use about three microphones, but a school board meeting would likely take seven or eight.

Miles said places like Centennial Hall, where Steamboat Springs City Council meets, have long been equipped to broadcast these meetings with strategically placed speakers, microphones and cameras that allow council to comment. both virtual and in-person audiences.

Several local government agencies use a system called Owl, which is a combination of 360-degree camera, speaker, and microphone specifically designed to broadcast in-person meetings online. Miles said these systems still have similar issues.

“If I have to present something, a PowerPoint or something, where am I going to do it?” Said Miles.

Routt County Commissioners use the owl and allow people to participate virtually and in person, with county employees frequently joining from their offices elsewhere in the building. To view the presentations and the people joining virtually, the commissioners use a large television on wheels. People in person also log into the Zoom meeting and share their screens when they need to view a presentation.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of being able to handle this hybrid situation,” said Commissioner Tim Redmond. “I feel like as a government organization, we are responding to the needs of the people, giving them whatever will work for them, so that we can keep moving forward.”

The Hayden School District also uses the owl and sets up a projector to share presentations.

Miles has said some of the hybrid meetings he’s been in have been “brutal” and he wants to make sure the board avoids those issues when he returns. He recommended that council postpone returning to face-to-face meetings until they can meet without masks, which the district currently requires for everyone.

The board also indicated that it preferred to choose either option, with members preferring to stay on Zoom or drop by in person but not try to organize a hybrid meeting. Miles said that regardless of how they organize meetings, they will always be streamed live and on the district’s website for later viewing – two features that the Hayden and South Routt school districts do not offer. not.

“If we’re going to the real world, I think we should just keep it real. If we want to be virtual, let’s just keep it virtual, ”said Lara Craig, board member. “Either one is my opinion.”

Vice-chairperson Katy Lee said she agreed and if someone wanted to participate in public commentary but could not attend in person, the board gives equal weight to emails.

“We give equal weight to comments made in the meeting versus emails, so anyone who can’t make it to the meeting can send an email instead,” Lee said. “There are other ways to get us involved. “

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