Require Online Streaming of Public Meetings?
AB339 is in our legislature now and would require online streaming of meetings, however it has been amended in ways that make it almost useless. Below is a position paper filed by San Diego Schools with the Senate Governance and Finance Committee today, 6/25/21. June 25th, 2021
The Hon. Mike McGuire Senate Governance and Finance Committee Sacramento CA, 95814
Submitted via electronic method
Subject: Support Bill AB-339
Dear Mr. McGuire, I represent San Diego Schools, an organization supporting parent advocacy in our K-12 school systems in San Diego County. The pandemic has exposed us to more than the Covid-19 virus. We have also been exposed to the many innovative ways technology can keep us connected when we aren’t able to be somewhere in person. The handling of governmental meetings is one area revolutionized by these developments.
Here at San Diego Schools one of our core beliefs is that parents need to be involved in the decisions made by their Boards that affect the education of our kids. “Transparency, Accountability, Equity.” We have been encouraging our members to do this for some time now, predating the pandemic, and have been monitoring school board meetings for years. The extent of that monitoring, however, has been greatly limited by the need to be physically present in most. Prior to the pandemic, some of the more forward-thinking districts streamed their meetings or broadcast them on local cable channels and some archived them for later review. Most, however, did not.
Prior to the pandemic, board meeting attendance at routine meetings was often limited to the very few members of the public who were interested enough in government transparency to attend. Post pandemic, however, that has changed significantly. Implementation of online meetings as a rule rather than an exception has driven tremendous increases in attendance. We have seen public participation in School Board meetings vastly exceeding even our most optimistic hopes.
In most of the Board meetings we monitor, attendance levels have easily been 10 times higher than pre-pandemic levels. Even the most routine meetings now often involve hundreds of members of the public.
Last year we observed a Zoom meeting of a School Board in a district with about 25,000 parents. There were 19,000 attendees at that meeting. Assuming most were parents, that means over 75% of all parents in the district were involved in that meeting.
Meetings that before may have had a few parents speak now routinely feature a number of parents who are now able to give direct feedback on their thoughts to our Board members.
That growth is simply astonishing, and a level of participation we need to sustain.
AB-339 would clearly do that, however we have some concerns regarding the amendments that have been made. In section 54953 (b), the amended language would restrict the impact of this legislation to only juridictions containing at least 250,000 people. This is obviously a way to prevent this legislation from being applicable to most public meetings in this state. As I’m sure you know, there are only 15 municipalities in the state with populations in excess of 250,000. Even at the county level only half of California’s counties have more than this threshold. And in school districts? Estimates are that there are only four school districts in the entire state that serve jurisdictions of over 250,000 people. This appears to be a completely transparent effort to make sure this legislation does not have significant impact on actual meetings, while maintaining a façade that it will do what The People want it to do. We also have concerns about the various provisions being stricken from section 54954.2, most of which were in the original legislation to define specifics of how meetings were to be announced and posted in a way that would facilitate public attendance. These provisions appear to have been stricken for no other reason than to enable even the few jurisdictions that would now be affected from having to comply with any reasonable regulations making them accessible. We urge you to remove these amendments and send this legislation on for vote as originally written, or with language very close to as written.
As Thomas Jefferson said, "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people."
Let’s take a big step toward moving his vision forward into the 21st century.
Todd Maddison Founding Member San Diego Schools