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Commentary: LAUSD board meeting lost in transparency

Michael Janofsky | July 31, 2015

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LAUSD school boardFor more than a year, students, parents, community groups and even LA Unified members, themselves, have demanded greater transparency in how the board conducts the business of the nation’s second-largest school district.

Too often, critics say, the board moves with no apparent effort to broaden the conversation or even allow the public to watch the process unfold, let alone participate.

And now it’s happened again.

Maybe it’s only a small example, but it’s a perfect metaphor that illustrates the sometimes cavalier approach the school board takes to informing the public, thus strengthening community participation, input and trust.

The LAUSD board had a meeting last night — an open session, followed by a closed session. The agenda went up early in the week, along with the reminder that the open session would be televised on KLCS and live-streamed over the internet. Closed sessions remain private.

But when 6 pm came, time to start, screens stayed blank.

No video. No audio. Nothing.

A parent, a student, a community member who might have wanted to see what the members were up to were shut out. And so they missed an update on the federal government’s efforts to reauthorize No Child Left Behind. They missed a flurry of committee assignments.

And they missed seeing a vivid example of democracy in action, a real, live event of students protesting a federal program that has delivered military-grade weapons to school districts across the country, including LA Unified.

OK, so maybe these weren’t Man-Bites-Dog moments. But they were part of a public agency’s work with publicly-elected officials in charge. That means taxpayers have the right to see what’s up, but they got to see nothing.

What happened? It’s not entirely clear, but it was hardly an anomaly. Sometimes when the open part of a meeting is pre-judged to be too short to turn on cameras and microphones, the people in charge of these things decide not to turn them on. Saves money.

Last night, a decision was made to skip the video but provide audio. Then word came from a district official, “The TV crew failed to throw the switch to broadcast the audio.”

And so, we got blanks. And silence.

School board meetings, by their nature, are inconvenient. Whether they are scheduled at 1 pm, 4 pm or 6 pm, they disadvantage large numbers of people whose jobs and family responsibilities deny them the ability to attend.

That’s why televising and live-streaming them makes so much sense. It educates. It allows for participation, It builds trust. It provides transparency.

The opposite of all that happened yesterday. 

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