Starting with the new year, the eyes of the world will be watching the DeSoto County School District (DCS) Board of Education… literally.
With the regularly scheduled district board meeting at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 4, the DCS School Board will, for the first time, be meeting in front of those gathered in the board room at its Central Services office in Hernando, but also in front of those who will have the capability to watch the proceedings by way of a computer live stream through a link on the district website, desotocountyschools.org.
At minimal cost to the district and with the majority of equipment and bandwidth already in place, DeSoto County Schools board meetings will now be available for viewing on a desktop, laptop, tablet or any other device that can connect to the internet.
Mississippi’s largest school district will join about 1 million producers of live web streaming events through its provider, a company called Livestream.
“We’re all elected by the people and we want the citizens of DeSoto County to know about school operations and have access to information that is conveyed at our board meetings,” said DCS Supt. Cory Uselton. “Our board members want all of our operations to be as transparent as possible and I believe this will be another step in the right direction of the mission of keeping our citizens informed.”
Board member Michele Henley, who represents District 2, first approached Uselton and Chief Operations Officer Rob Chase about the idea of broadcasting board meetings by way of the internet.
Henley noted many people she met in her election campaign in 2016 knew little about what a board member actually did and she saw what the City of Southaven was doing with the live streaming of its Board of Aldermen meetings.
“I don’t think most people know what goes on at school board meetings,” Henley said. “All in all, it is a win-win for everyone. We really want to promote it to provide more accessibility and encourage more involvement. We’re trying to be good stewards of everything we’re given, as the community gives us tax dollars and resources. With our students and teachers, we want to let parents know that the decisions we are making are based on what we feel are best for the students and our school system.”
The school district discovered there was little additional effort it had to make to begin the live stream, Chase said. Research and work with Livestream found that DCS already had enough wi-fi capability and the audio and camera equipment necessary to produce the feed.
Because of that, Chase noted the actual additional cost came in the annual subscription to the service and one slight upgrade in an additional network cord.
“I didn’t know it would be that simple,” said Chase. “We talked to some of the officials with the City of Southaven. They enjoyed using it and it works well for them. It’s a minimal effort on our part to set up and get the stream back to the people.”
The annual subscription cost for the service is $399, Chase said, adding that Livestream handles everything after the school district sends the stream to the provider’s server.
“They also do our archiving for us,” Chase said. “They will archive in two months, so basically four board meetings will hold and once the fifth one happens, the first one will roll off. We’ve got the wi-fi capability to stream it, all we needed was a decent camera which we own and that was pretty much all it takes.”
“Hopefully, by the end of the year, we’ll be able to see how many people will have been on and how many people have used the videos, and so forth,” added Henley. “That will kind of tell us whether it will be feasible to keep it in the future or whether it is something we need to think about if it is worth it financially, even at the small amount we are paying.”
A trial run of the proceedings was successfully done at the last meeting before the Christmas break. Uselton said all five board members are supporting the move.
“We have an important responsibility because parents are trusting us with their children and taxpayers are trusting us with their money,” Uselton said. “We have an obligation to the citizens of DeSoto County and all five board members and myself are committed to that obligation to make sure that we offer the best education possible for every student in DeSoto County Schools.”
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.