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School Board could trade papers for laptops

Thursday, March 18, 2010 | 11:04 a.m. CDT; updated 10:39 p.m. CDT, Thursday, March 18, 2010

COLUMBIA — The Columbia School Board is leaning toward doing away with paper documents in favor of using laptops in upcoming meetings, at least on a trial basis.

District Chief Operations Officer Nick Boren suggested on Thursday morning that the board try a pilot program, in which members would use laptops and electronic files to prepare for and use during meetings in May, June and July.

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Conversations about the possibility of such a program began in 2006 but were tabled the next year. Board member Karla DeSpain, who was president at the time, said discussions were tabled due to the high cost of the program and the difficulty of getting laptops.

In 2007, Boren said, the cost estimate of implementing a paperless program was about $36,000, with an annual software maintenance fee of about $9,000. The current proposal will pose no cost because members would use software already in use by the district and would be provided with seven laptops for use during meetings. Boren said he estimates the program would save about $3,000 per year in paper and labor costs.

The board would also benefit, Boren said. “Board members would have at their fingertips a history of all board meetings and documents associated with them,” he said, “and new board members could log into their accounts and the archives would be readily available.”

Not all members were convinced that going paperless would be the way to go.

James Whitt said he was concerned about the difficulty of going through documents and finding information electronically during meetings, but Boren said it has the potential to be more efficient and organized because board members could be in sync with presenters.

President Jan Mees questioned the timing of implementing this program when budget considerations and new member elections keep the board busy, but Christine King said she thought they should pilot the program now because every season is busy in its own way. “There’s really no good time to make such a major change,” she said.

The board will vote on whether to pilot the program at a later meeting.

Also at the meeting:

  • In a 6-0 vote (Vice President Tom Rose was absent), members approved an amendment to the 2009-10 calendar changing May 21 from a full day of teacher collaboration to a combination early-release and teacher collaboration day. The amendment means that the last day of school will be June 4, instead of  June 7, as had been planned because of using snow days.
  • The board voted 6-0 to authorize schools Superintendent Chris Belcher to submit a response to Google’s "Request for Information" for a trial location for Google Fiber, an ultra-high speed broadband Internet network. Belcher will address the district's Internet capability and opportunities that could come from an expanded network.

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