Note to readers: Mitchell Republic Editor Luke Hagen, who spoke at the Mitchell Board of Education's Oct. 12 meeting, was not involved in the editing or approval process of this article.
The Mitchell Board of Education voted Monday night to further explore options for streaming its meetings that could include partnering with a private entity to provide the service.
The decision came by unanimous vote at the most recent meeting of the board at the Mitchell Middle School cafeteria.
The board took up the issue to determine whether or not it wanted to implement its own system for streaming its meetings over the internet. Such an arrangement would allow patrons who may not be able to attend the meetings in person a chance to do so via virtual format.
The Mitchell School District currently does not livestream its own meetings, though the Mitchell Republic has been providing streams of the meetings for its readers since July, including Monday night's meeting.
Shawn Ruml, a member of the board, was interested in the proposal, but was concerned that the stream provided by the newspaper may not always be free and accessible to the public, and sought a more formal agreement to ensure all meetings would be streamed. If the board continues to rely on the Republic for streaming services, he would like to see some sort of arrangement to guarantee a level of service to the community.
He also said streaming its meetings seemed like a responsibility of the board.
"The Mitchell Republic has been doing it kind of informally in the past," Ruml said. "It almost feels like this should be in our hands. I think it would be good to discuss the best way to do that."
Joe Graves, superintendent for the district said his personal recommendation was the continue to leave streaming the meetings in the hands of private enterprise. Graves cited several reasons for the district to not establish its own streaming service including the cost of adding a system of cameras in Room 10 of the Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy, the time and cost of having technology department personnel operate and maintain the system, the ongoing costs of upgrading that system and the costs associated with establishing a video recording archive.
"We have a system of livestreaming that is occurring. I think we can leave it at that. I'm not sure why we want to turn it over to be a taxpayer expense when we don't have to," Graves said.
Luke Hagen, editor of the Mitchell Republic, told the board that the Republic is committed to attending all board of education meetings and providing some level of streaming of the proceedings heading into the future. It is a service the public is interested in, he said, and the Republic is well-suited to provide it.
"In July, we saw a real need for (livestreaming board meetings). We've been livestreaming these meetings since before August. We're reliable and will continue to be at every meeting. I've been here since 2008 and I can't think of a board meeting that we haven't been at and reported on," Hagen said.
People are watching, he said. He said approximately 4,500 viewers tuned into to watch the special board meeting live in August.
One concern from board members and members of the audience was the ease of availability of the livestreams. Hagen confirmed that the livestream is behind a paywall on the Mitchell Republic website, but that the newspaper constantly experiments with new settings that should make the meetings accessible to all subscribers and most viewers. A non-subscriber may be able to access a set number of articles per week or month before reaching a limit that a subscription can override.
There are no time limits involved with watching a livestream. If a reader can access the article with the livestream, they can watch the livestream in its entirety.
"We have a meter and if you hit your article limit, then (the livestream) will go behind a paywall. But if you only access us two or three times a month, then it's likely going to be available. But it is available to every subscriber every single time," Hagen said.
Making the livestreams completely free to all does not make business sense, given the time and cost of producing them, he said. And while the Republic may not send two reporters to each meeting — as it does now to handle the advanced streaming setup — regular coverage of regular and special board meetings will continue to be the norm.
"It costs money to run a newspaper, and it costs our reporters time to be there. It does take a lot of work," Hagen said.
Matt Christiansen, another member of the board, asked if it were possible to enter into some type of subsidized arrangement with the Republic or another potential provider to guarantee a constant level of service for streaming meetings. Such an arrangement would require opening up to bids from any business interested in providing the service.
Hagen said that was certainly a possibility.
"We'd be willing to look into that, depending on the kind of arrangement. I know that is something we would be interested in," Hagen said.
Ruml put forth a motion to have Graves and Levi Hohn, director of technology for the Mitchell School District, look further into having another entity, such as the Republic, provide said services for the district and then revisit the issue at the December meeting of the board. Christiansen seconded the motion, and it passed by unanimous vote.
During the public commentary portion of the meeting, several members of the audience again expressed their opposition to the mandate that requires the use of masks during the school day in K-12 buildings in the district.
Many continued to express their desire to see the board do its own independent research instead of blindly following the recommendations of health care service providers, such as Avera and Sanford.
"It's important the board members explore objectively and search your sources. If you're following guidelines or what someone from Avera says, I think you're mistaken," said Dwight Stadler, who has spoken out against the mandate at board meetings in the past.
Bryce Gillen, who was also among the audience Monday night, asked the board for an idea of what those who oppose the mandate can do to sway the board's mind. He also said he felt those in opposition to the mandate were in the majority.
"I'm extremely convinced that we have the overwhelming majority to get rid of this mandate. Is there a certain number of signatures you would like to see from parents or students? Is there a number of signatures we could produce?" Gillen asked. "What would it take to make this go away in November?"
The board did not give any one specific answer on what they wanted to see in order to repeal the mandate, but said they were considering a number of factors, including community infection numbers and the increased availability of vaccines for young children.
"Where I'm at on it right now, I'm looking at statewide cases and local cases. It looked like where it was going was toward another big spike in November, but now it's starting to go down. That's how it's trending right now," Ruml said.
Kevin Kenkel, another member of the board, also said he was cautious about the factors he was watching. He said he doesn't want to require masks, but feels at the moment it is in the best interest of the district, students and teachers. That may change, he said.
"The trends this year are ahead of last year and the numbers are starting to go down, so I'm hopeful. If trends continue the way they are, I would be open to voting to remove the mask mandate," Kenkel said. "I stated back in August I didn't want to start the school year with masks."
The most recent report on COVID-19 cases from the Mitchell School District indicate six active cases in the district — one at Longfellow Elementary, two at Mitchell Middle School and three at Mitchell High School. The district has reported 23 cases of the disease this school year.
The latest COVID-19 case report from the South Dakota Department of Health has Davison County in high community spread, with 114 active cases. Across the state, there are 6,539 active cases of the disease, with 202 currently hospitalized.
The board is expected to revisit the mandate issue at its next meeting on Monday, Nov. 8 at the Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy.
The board made the following personnel moves:
The new certified hires of Melissa Miller, middle school musical instructor, $2,055, effective the 2021-22 school year and Emily Brunsing, 3rd grade (0.5 FTE) at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, $23,375, effective Sept. 20, 2021.
The new classified hires of Linus Mayer, custodian, $14 per hour, effective Sept. 21, 2021; Becky Anderson, librarian at Longfellow Elementary, $14 per hour, 7.5 hours daily, effective Oct. 15, 2021 and Lee Gair, custodial at L.B. Williams Elementary, $14 per hour, 8 hours per day, effective Oct. 15, 2021.
The hire of Kimberly Max, dean of students, $52,500, effective Oct. 1, 2021.
The resignations of Cassey VerHey, Mitchell High School cheer coach, effective the 2021-22 school year; Allison Pierson, Mitchell Middle School oral interpretation advisor, effective 2021-22 school year; Nikki Beukelman, library aide at Longfellow Elementary, effective Oct. 15, 2021; Cody Foreman, head track coach, effective 2021-22 school year; Jenny Kunkel, dishwasher/server, effective Sept. 23, 2021 and Keri Munsen, head girls golf coach, effective 2021-22 school year
The Mitchell Technical College resignations of Stephanie Friesen, events and corporate ed coordinator, effective Sept. 24, 2021 and Laurie Kenworthy, campus store manager, effective Oct. 5, 2021.
The hire of TerriAnn Murray, LONG Power Strong Interventionist, $25,000, effective Aug. 18.
Also at the meeting, the board:
Heard board member reports.
Heard the superintendent report.
Heard public commentary.
Recognized the Mitchell High School girls tennis team for their third straight state championship
Recognized blue ribbon winners among K-12 art students at the South Dakota State Fair and recognition of Mitchell School District art department for first place finishes for Mitchell Middle School and Mitchell High School, as well as a third-place finish for Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary.
Approved the construction management bid from Puetz Design + Build for the new high school building.
The next meeting of the Mitchell Board of Education is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. at the Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy.