Thursday, December 2, 2010

Televising CMS budget meetings

Joni Trobich, president of the Mecklenburg PTA Council, recently sent the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board a plea to televise or otherwise record upcoming budget sessions. Not only are tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs in the balance, but Trobich says the stakes are even higher: "We risk civic unrest, and deep racial and economic division in our community over decisions that are not understood by the public."

Many of the board's budget talks will take place during regular meetings, which are televised and videostreamed on the CMS Web site. The next one, on Dec. 14, falls into that category.

But the board has also scheduled four special work sessions in 2011, which will not be available unless CMS finds about $10,000 or comes up with another plan for taping, airing and streaming. Board member Tim Morgan has suggested pulling from board members' travel allowances, but several of his colleagues balked at spending any public money to televise budget-cutting sessions.

Trobich has some ideas (read the full note below). I'm intrigued by some blog comments suggesting CMS use students. I'm sure that's not as easy as it sounds, and I suspect it can't be done for free. But it seems like the right combination of motivated students, tech-savvy faculty and business partners could do the work while giving students some marketable skills.

 Here's what Trobich has to say:

To our School Board Members;

Today I write not as president of the PTA Council, but as a citizen very interested in education policy. It is critical to the well-being of our city to make all "open" school board meetings available to the public. To continue the policy of only televising "regular" board meetings is actually endangering the peace and civic engagement of our community.

I know of your efforts to engage the public in the comprehensive review; I know that significant efforts were made in the summer, and our community did not respond adequately. We are somewhat spoiled here in Charlotte; we take our "world class" schools for granted, and many of us do not take the trouble to get involved until something happens that affects our school or our household.

In the past, when school cuts were announced and the public was caught unaware, we could go back and see the proceedings of meetings, and we could watch the replay of the meetings (including the budget work sessions where all the important factors in the decisions were discussed) on channel 3. This fall, when school closings were announced, parents, staff, and community leaders felt blindsided, and had no way of going back to the discussions to find the reasoning behind the decisions. Without this background, even those trying to understand were not able to understand why these ideas made sense.

Please do something to keep the public informed as to these decisions; I have been in attendance at many of the budget work sessions, but there are huge numbers of citizens that cannot attend due to work obligations, and still want to understand the process. I recorded and transcribed one of the budget work session meetings and sent it out to our PTAs; it took days (and nights) to accomplish this, and I cannot do that on a regular basis.

Please consider the following possibilities:

  • Provide a digital audio recording of the proceedings of every open meeting that is not televised. A member of the public who is interested in what happened at the meeting could view the powerpoint presentation, provided on the board website, and listen to the digital recording and understand the reasoning behind the proposals. It should be posted immediately after the meeting is concluded. The advantage here is that it is very cheap and does not require special expertise - a digital recorder with USB connection can be purchased for less than 50 dollars which will create a very good quality recording that can be posted as a file on the website.
  • Provide a video recording (as we did before) available on the board website and run it on Channel 3. The obligation to inform the public is certainly worth the tiny amount of funds that is required.
  • Provide a software transcription of the audio recording of the meeting immediately on the website afterward, with the disclaimer that the method used may produce less than perfect quality, and is provided to allow immediate review of the meetings proceedings by members of the public who could not attend.

  • Use a "Flip" camera to provide a video of the meeting. Although it would not be the quality we are used to, we are in a different budget climate than ever before, and the public will understand that. It would be far more informative than the naked power point presentations that we have now, and better than an audio recording alone. Again, this is a very cheap option. A Flip camera which will produce a video tape instantly for Youtube costs less than 130 dollars, and is available at dozens of stores in Charlotte immediately.

Without doing a better job of informing the public, we risk civic unrest, and deep racial and economic division in our community over decisions that are not understood by the public. I believe we have only seen a tiny fraction of the unrest that will occur unless we do this differently.

Thank you for your service to our community. Although I have disagreed with many school board decisions over the years, I have never felt that decisions were made based on "back room" agreements, or were being made arbitrarily without insightful discussion.

All of our citizens should be assured that these wrenching decisions are based on reasonable discussions of costs and benefits to the community, and that they are invited to participate.

Joni Trobich
Mecklenburg PTA Council


therestofthestory said...

So do I understand that the existing method costs about $10,000 per meeting? I know CMS-TV was supposed to be cut for this year when CMS was believed to be cut $40 to $50 million however they ended up with a plus $10 million budget.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Ms. Trobich for the letter. A concerned teacher and parent.

Anonymous said...

Students would gladly video these work sessions for CMS.

You know, this district lacks resourcefulness and ingenuity. I remember when students at my high school would leave school half-day and complete apprenticeships in the afternoons.

There were also teacher cadet programs in place where students would leave school and assist teachers for a certain amount of hours per week.

If videography were offered as a course in high schools, I bet that class would be very popular and selective. It would encourage students to do their best.

Real-world learning and CMS aren't synonomous. I certainly wish that our leaders would stop with the scare tactics and politics and wake-up to the 21st century.

Anonymous said...

I'd just like paragestapo cargo pants and embroidered CMS security golf shirt, team CMS issue composite automatic weapon and Navy SEAL training to provide security for the staff and students at Garinger and West Meck. What a chance to learn videography under fire! Just ask any high school student using their cell phones to document fights to pull up the latest video in CMS. As you know Anon 8:05, the personnel in schools don't lack resourcefulness or ingenuity, the administration discourages it or misappropriates it while proudly touting its latest undocumented fluff initiative. Creative critical thinking skills and their creators are only valued by creative thinking organizations. Time for a small Orwellian bedtime fairy story Bolyn! Good night.

wiley coyote said...


Mayor Foxx is always on the lookout to bail out a branch of government and spend funds like Robin Hood.

Ten grand is pocket change for him so why not approach the City of Charlotte to fund the meetings on Government TV?

Oh, wait. I just remembered. Foxx took his kids out of CMS and put them in private school.

My bad.

rashid1891 said...

If videography were offered as a course in high schools, I bet that class would be very popular and selective. It would encourage students to do their best.

Anonymous said...


Ms. Trobich makes some interesting suggestions about recording the school board meetings but they sort ring of “let’s wait for it to come out in paperback.”

The issues of this budget are fast moving and changing. For example at the last work session the scope of the shortfall was 5, 10 or 15% and the next week it was scaled back in a letter from the Governor to 5 or 10%.

You need to be at the meetings. Make your own film and notes. You and your influential members need to start providing immediate feedback to board members. By the time you wait for the distribution of another CMS documentary the staff and board will have moved on to another stage.

To get an idea of how tight is the schedule go to this link and click on “Budget Schedule” to see the Budget Process Schedule:

If you want to be Paul Revere you have to move fast.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

vatedlyMs. Trobich needs our support with her suggestion. The cost isnt the real issue here and all of you know that. I would suggest that if cost is the real inhibitor then let's trade off a regular scheduled meeting or meetings to have the budget sessions televised. There is much more value in seeing the budget sessions than the regular scheduled "stamp and approve" meetings.

Ann Doss Helms said...

On the cost: Estimate was $2,000 per three-hour session. With four sessions scheduled and the likelihood that one or more would run long, Gorman estimated $10K total.

On Mayor Foxx: My understanding is his oldest is in private school but he's enrolling his son in CMS kindergarten next year.

wiley coyote said...

On Mayor Foxx: My understanding is his oldest is in private school but he's enrolling his son in CMS kindergarten next year.

December 3, 2010 2:19 PM

Good strategy. Placate both sides as not to pin yourself down as a hypocrite to either.