By Danielle Arndt
February 9, 2012
Ann Arbor school board members soon will have laptops in front of them at meetings instead of paper packets.
The Board of Education unanimously approved the purchase of an electronic board documents software, called BoardDocs, Wednesday for an annual fee of $9,000.
The software is expected to save the district about $3,680 in packet preparation costs and will improve public accessibility, transparency, archiving and consistency in reporting, said Amy Osinski, executive assistant to the board.
Osinski estimated the district spends about $6,280 copying the board packets and reports annually, plus an additional $400 in extra printer use and machine maintenance.
The software will place the entire board packet online. Trustees and the public will be able to create a username, password and log on via a website to view the packet.
Other districts that use BoardDocs report the software has helped to reduce the amount of staff time spent preparing board packets by half, Osinski said. For Ann Arbor, that would equate to a savings of about $7,540.
The packets also will be interactive. The public could pose a question or comment about the agenda as well as follow along during meetings.
Osinski said with the prevalence of Wi-Fi, tablets and smartphones today, having board packets online makes them more accessible to people.
There also is a video option the district could choose to make use of in the future, she said. She explained videos of the meetings could be attached to the agendas and available online the day after the meeting.
Board members also will be able to type notes into their packets. However, the notes will be confidential and only able to be viewed under trustees’ usernames, Osinski said.
There will be a one-time $1,000 startup fee for on-site training and the district could incur an additional cost of $3,500 if the board decides to purchase “optional hardware,” such as iPads, for each trustee to avoid the obtrusiveness of laptops at the board table. The board was largely in consensus, however, that this was not necessary.
The $1,000 fee also includes 24/7 year-round technical support, upgrades and updates, full customization of the program and document archives of up to 10 years of data.
It will take about six weeks to set up the software and train the staff, Osinski said.
The contract Ann Arbor schools approved was for five years at the $9,000-per-year rate. However, the board does have the option of renewing the contract on an annual basis.
One drawback to the BoardDocs software is the potential inconvenience if the Internet connection is lost, which can occasionally happen after normal business hours at the Ann Arbor District Library where the school board conducts its meetings.
Osinski said one solution to this would be to set up her laptop as a Wi-Fi hotspot to provide an Internet connection to the other board members. There would be small extra cost for this.
The district also would save about $120 annually in outside storage fees, Osinski said. Ann Arbor Public Schools stores some of its past board documents at an offsite storage unit due to space issues at BALAS.
For more information about BoardDocs, visit its website.
Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.