by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board meetings may take place at Winona Senior High School (WSHS) in the future instead of Winona City Hall. In order to move the meetings, the district would have to purchase $38,000 in new video streaming equipment, which could also help students learn about video production and be used for capturing district events on camera.
The cost of the video streaming equipment is part of the fiscal year 2021 budget, and the funding for the equipment comes from the capital projects levy for technology.
The equipment would be portable and allow meetings to be live-streamed and broadcast on local cable television as they are at city hall, WAPS Director of Information Technology Kevin Flies shared at the board’s July 16 meeting. The district technology team is currently aiming for the WSHS multipurpose room to be the board’s meeting place.
Students would oversee the process of board meetings being filmed for the public to view. “And I think that would be a great thing for us to be able to say that our students are managing and producing high-quality video and high-quality content on board meetings for our community,” Flies said.
In addition to students leading the operation of board meetings being filmed for community members to watch, students would gain more opportunities to learn about producing videos as a result of the video-streaming equipment, WAPS Technology Integration Specialist for WSHS Jeremy Graves noted, explaining that video production curriculum would accompany the equipment. He said the equipment would be “studio-quality,” and that the high school could potentially add a studio production course in which the equipment could be utilized.
WSHS Principal Mark Anderson said he is excited about the prospect of students having more chances to become involved with video production. “We have so many opportunities for our kids to get in there and use that space and this equipment in more than just one content area — Tech Nest, obviously; we have English class, mass comm; we have social studies teachers that use things,” Anderson stated.
The equipment could also be used to broadcast and live stream district events apart from board meetings, Flies explained. “Because it’s portable, they’ll be able to go off site, whether that’s over to Paul Gield Field, or even off site, off of our facilities somewhere, where they’d be able to broadcast live events,” Flies said.
The video-streaming equipment would also replace existing devices that are beginning to age.
“It’s getting a little antiquated, and we’re running into some issues where we would actually have to start looking to replace it,” Graves shared. “So, having the ability to get this equipment now is actually kind of fortuitous for us.”
Board member Allison Quam stated that she has received complaints about the quality of audio in videos of past board meetings at city hall. She asked about the number of microphones that would be at WSHS, as well as what the audio part of the video streaming equipment would be like.
The equipment would enable higher-quality video and audio to be produced, Flies noted. A few ceiling-mounted microphones would be installed at the WSHS multipurpose room so people presenting to the board and board members could be heard in videos of board meetings without each individual needing a microphone as they did in the past, he added.
Board member Karl Sonneman said he felt positive about the proposal. “It’s always hard to stay current in tech such as this, but it brings us up to a good point to go forward and carry us forward for several years,” Sonneman shared.
Early this spring, discussion took place about the location of board meetings switching from city hall to WSHS due to some technological difficulties and the city’s concerns about security, board chair Nancy Denzer explained, commenting that no individuals but meeting attendees were in the building on the evenings the board gathered.
At city hall, items being discussed by board members were projected behind the board table. Sonneman asked how materials would be presented at WSHS.
A couple large flat-panel televisions could be utilized, Flies said, with one facing board members and the other facing members of the public in attendance at board meetings.
“The other advantage of the mobility of the system is that … if we have to move a board meeting or conduct a public hearing in an auditorium, either at the high school or the middle school, we’d be able to utilize this system to stream and record at the quality that we do for regular board meetings instead of trying to have to set up a small camcorder or trying to do a livestream through an iPad or something like that,” Flies stated.
It would be beneficial for the board and the public to receive the plan for moving the board’s meeting location to the high school in writing as the specifics of how to potentially do so become more finalized, Quam shared.
Meeting at WSHS could provide the board with a way to further connect with the public, Denzer noted.
“This does give us an opportunity to bring the community into the high school, into the buildings, which I think is a great effort on the district’s part for visibility and access to the building and kind of to show off what’s happening here,” Denzer said. “And also, it does answer the question that city hall had about security,” as some members of the high school’s custodial team would still be in the building during times at which the board would meet. Some members of the custodial team are regularly scheduled to be at the high school until 11:30 p.m., and overtime pay would solely apply if a board meeting took place past 11:30 p.m.
The board will next meet on August 6 at 6 p.m. It is currently scheduled to meet at city hall.