FARMINGTON — Live streaming of Regional School Unit 9 school board and budget meetings had been a resource for residents of district towns. It allowed viewers to watch the meeting online as it unfolded. Once the meeting ended, the video was posted online so those unable to watch live were able to tune in on their own time. Archived videos also acted as a resource for those looking for information or wishing to follow up on board history.

What had been a resource for residents for the last three years was recently turned off by the board, at least for the time being.

“It’s a complicated issue,” said Superintendent Tina Meserve in a phone interview. “The board and I do not want people to think we are doing this to keep people in the dark.”

The decision to suspend live streaming for a year came during the Tuesday, Feb. 12 board meeting. Challenges with staffing to set up and run the equipment, an outdated microphone system, low viewership, and fiscal responsibility contributed to the decision, Meserve added.  

Staff would set up the necessary camera and microphones prior to a meeting. Advance digital media students at the Foster Career and Technical Education Center would run the equipment during the meeting.  

“There are no students in the program who can run the equipment,” Meserve said. “We just don’t have the capacity and we can’t force students to come back to school after hours.”

In the past, board meetings began at 7 p.m. Recently the board voted to begin meetings at 6:30 p.m. Meetings can last up to two hours. At times, meetings last longer, if the board votes to extend beyond its two-hour limit.

Students and staff were paid for their time, Meserve said.

“The district budgeted $6,000 to live stream school board and budget meetings,” she added.

An obsolete sound system added to the challenge. The system used during board meetings was purchased as a discontinued item 9 years ago, she said.

“Additionally, the microphones were meant for musical performances in an auditorium,” Meserve said. “They were meant to be used close to the mouth, not in a meeting format. Often times we would get feedback from live stream viewers that no one could hear what was being said.”

Devices meant to amplify audio for the hearing impaired in attendance at meetings are connected to the microphone system. Without a sound system in place, the hearing devices will not work.

“It is a challenge to be fiscally responsible but we need a whole new system,” she added.

Meserve said the board reached out to Mt. Blue TV to see if the community access organization could live stream board meetings. “We were told they did not have the capacity to do so,” she said.

Meserve also said attempts were made to see if there was an alternate location to hold board meetings in the community; somewhere that had an audio and microphone set up for the 16-member board. “We were unable to find anything,” she added.

In addition, there was a low number of live stream viewers, although many more tuned in after the meeting ended.

“The average number of viewers during a meeting was between five and 10,” she said.

Meserve said the board is researching a solution to the issues and the goal is to have an answer in the next year.

“There have been a thousand things we looked into,” she said. “We have someone coming in to review the sound system and give us different options.

“It is not that we don’t want people to hear and it is not that we don’t want people to watch the live stream. It is a resource problem and a technology problem that we are working on. ”

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