School directors OK recording, clarify media policy

South Whidbey School Board meetings are now being recorded, and the audio posted online.

Directors approved the change during a Wednesday workshop at the request of Superintendent Jo Moccia. It’s one of several changes the district is making to improve communication and responsiveness to the public.

The board has come under fire in recent months for a lack of transparency, and the district’s decision years ago to stop broadcasting meetings on the Internet has been a sore spot of critics.

According to Moccia, the practice was discontinued largely because it was under under-utilized and the service unreliable. Making audio recordings is easy, however, and required an investment of about $30. Posting recordings on the district’s website is free.

Directors made no objections.

“It’s a good idea,” said Director Steve Scoles, board co-chairman.

During the meeting, policies concerning interaction with the media were also clarified. Director Linda Racicot, chairwoman, said it was important that the board act as one voice, and not speak as individuals. There are cases where they may want to but should refrain.

“It’s not that we don’t want to talk, it’s just that we don’t want to talk inappropriately,” Racicot said.

“We’re always happy to take information in, but we can’t always give information out because we may not know it, or we … haven’t made a decision yet as a board and we can’t talk about how the whole board feels because we don’t know yet. We never know until the board votes,” she added.

Scoles seconded that position, but said there are “grey areas” that should be taken into account. Board members should have the autonomy to respond to a reporter who’s asking how they personally feel about a pending policy decision.

“I think as individuals, we should be free to comment on our opinion,” Scoles said.

Once the decision has been made, however, that gets tricker. And issues involving litigation are clear cases where board members should refrain from commenting altogether. He emphasized that they do care, but some things they cannot address.