San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas


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EDITORS’ NOTE: Years after the city of San Marcos and Hays County began televising their governing bodies’ meetings, San Marcos CISD has yet to embrace fundamental, real-time transparency through live video.

Earlier this year, the San Marcos City Council voted to allow San Marcos CISD trustees to use its ready-for-showtime chambers at no charge. City Hall facilities are already equipped to broadcast directly to two locally available cable access channels as well as the Internet. In their discussion of the invitation on April 15, San Marcos CISD trustees did not reject the idea outright but declined to immediately accept it, showing no particular hurry to check in with 2013. Trustees talked about the possibility of televising their own meetings but set no time frame for making it happen.

The San Marcos Mercury invited veteran city council members JOHN THOMAIDES and KIM PORTERFIELD to co-write this guest column in which they urge trustees to begin televising their meetings to encourage “more of our ‘clients’ to participate in open government and become informed and engaged in local government.

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COMMENTARY by JOHN THOMAIDES AND KIM PORTERFIELD

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San Marcos CISD trustees deserve our sincere thanks for their service to our children, families and community. A quality education is one of the key indicators of healthy, thriving cities like San Marcos and one of the critical ingredients for economic development.

San Marcos CISD board president Margie T. Villalpando and other trustees should move to broadcast board meetings. Such a transparency initiative would be a legacy that would serve San Marcos long after the current board has passed the baton to other leaders.

San Marcos CISD board president Margie T. Villalpando and other trustees should move to broadcast board meetings. The long-overdue transparency initiative would be a legacy that would serve San Marcos long after the current board has passed the baton to other leaders.

It is increasingly easy for members of the public to access the information they need to become engaged in their government and help them make choices. An informed public is an empowered public. An empowered public represents the best of our democratic process — and it’s a prerequisite for our community to take increased “ownership” of the school system, both its assets and challenges. It is incumbent upon our elected leaders to be open and transparent in their deliberations.

Today, both the city and county governments televise their public deliberations or stream live online so that citizens can participate even when they are unable to attend meetings. Our school board, rightfully citing budget limitations and the desire to direct all available dollars to the classroom, has chosen not to televise its meetings.

The city of San Marcos and San Marcos CISD enjoy dozens of partnerships, from law enforcement programs to shared facilities agreements to the current development of a Youth Master Plan, that result in shared benefits, more bang for the taxpayer buck and better services for everyone’s constituents.

Now, there is a solution to getting school board meetings on live local television. Realizing the importance of open and transparent government and at no expense to the San Marcos CISD, leaving all dollars focused on the education of our children, the San Marcos City Council unanimously voted to extend an invitation to the San Marcos CISD Board of Trustees to utilize city hall chambers for its regular monthly meetings so they can be shown live on local cable channels.

The city has all the video and audio equipment in place, already paid for by local tax funds, and a qualified person to operate it. We have a dais that will accommodate all trustees and key staff. We have 40 seats in our chambers and room beyond in the lobby for an additional 150 citizens. Most importantly, school board meetings would be broadcast live on both cable networks operating in our city.

Live televising of school board meeting is crucial so that more taxpayers, parents and other citizens can become more educated and engaged about issues our district faces, student accomplishments, and other district activity conducted at school board meetings.

In our experience, televised meetings increase citizen engagement and knowledge and result in more support, happier stakeholders and constituents. The district should do everything it can to make it easier for the public – especially busy parents of young children – to know what goes on at board meetings, even if only by watching them on TV. That kind of openness and transparency helps build connections between the district and the public – something all public entities should do to work as partners with parents, taxpayers and other constituents.

Currently school district taxes represent approximately 60 percent of your annual property tax bill. The city and county represent 20 percent each.

We look forward to this collaboration, subject to school board approval at their meeting on May 20th which will make it easier for more of our “clients” to participate in open government and become informed and engaged in local government, at no expense to educating our children.

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San Marcos Mayor Pro Tem JOHN THOMAIDES was elected to his fourth San Marcos City Council term in November 2011. City council member KIM PORTERFIELD was elected  in 2007 and re-elected in 2010.

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32 thoughts on “Commentary: Time for San Marcos CISD to embrace ‘Trustee TV’

  1. This month’s school board meeting is at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, May 20 in the Doris Miller Middle School cafeteria. The agenda hasn’t been posted as of 12:30 today but i’ve been told that the school board will be taking action regarding televising their meetings on Monday.

  2. Do you really want to see Lupe Costilla’s crazy diatribes on television. The way that she postures for attention makes for really bad theater.

  3. Is it really necessary for City Council members to determine the agenda of the school board?

    It would seem like the school district should have its own agenda and not be under the jurisdiction of the city council!!!!! It seems the two council members have the most interest in thrusting this onto SMCISD.

  4. Y’all rock for writing such a wonderful letter! Thank you!! To “Hmmmm” if you read the letter it is about providing facilities, not determining the agenda. Its about time the public was made aware of what occurs to freedom of speech and expression at these meetings. And, the impacts of these actions by elected officials on our local tax rates.
    Warm Regards, LMC

  5. Dear Hmmmm, I agree, SMCISD should be able to get together and get their meetings televised without the prodding of City Council.

    Should be able to.

    Should.

    Didn’t.

  6. I have a feeling they will vote against it. Then turn around and spend money to buy a system of their own. Then in 4-5 years they will put together a new bond package to build a new admin building. Eads loves to spend our money.

  7. JMO,

    I have a good feeling that it’ll be a 4-3 or 5-2 vote against accepting the city’s offer. The school board has voted to increase classes sizes year after year and now they are going to spend money attempting to televise/steam their meeting’s online.

    They’ll kick the can down the road and say they need to ‘plan’ and ‘revise board policy’ but all they are really doing is trying to keep the community disengaged from what is going on in our school district. I’ve come to realize that it’s okay for community members to sell pickles at the concession stands or spend a few hours running copies in the teacher workroom but the school district doesn’t want genuine community involvement – the vote to reject the city’s offer will be proof of that later on this evening.

    Obviously I am be a pessimist about this whole situation and I hope that the school board proves me wrong in a few hours…but I highly doubt it.

  8. If the Board does not choose to utilize the preexisting community infrastructure that has been graciously offered it had better produce a very good reason for not doing so. Otherwise the whole thing stinks to high heaven.

  9. If the school board had even the slightest interest in transparency, they would have video archives of the meetings available online alongside the meeting minutes and agenda. They could be up and running by tomorrow for under $200. All they would need is a consumer quality video camera and a tripod. I’ll bet there are at least half a dozen kids at the high school who could run the camera and take care of the upload and player setup.

  10. The board is dysfunctional. Two of the members are very hostile and rude to the superintendent and other board members. The board members who were arguing the most for it are ones that would be embarrassed if the community saw them in action.

    The bigger issue is they lack any kind of strategy or plan to address the goals they set for themselves. They seem to be subject to the outside influence of any whim of any group who comes along.

  11. I just got off the phone with someone who attended tonight’s board meeting. Nothing has changed. They didn’t even discuss or consider the city’s offer.

    I’m glad I didn’t hold my breath.

  12. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t take the City up on its offer unless the school board is genuinely trying to minimize parent and community involvement.

  13. Thank you to Mr. Arredondo and Mr. Roark, who have been keeping many of us updated on what happened last night. Thank you again to the authors of this letter for standing strong for transparency in San Marcos. Never realized the percentage of taxes from school district, and it is glaring that the issue of televised meetings has not been resolved.

    Newsflash SMISD: I bet those parents you fancy to attract to the district with your expensive mosh pit, more than likely will not appreciate such lack of transparency.

    Is it competency, transparency, or a little bit of both? What would prompt these school board elected officials to completely ignore the resonate voices as our community sings in unison Let the Sun Shine In!!

    JMA, you rule, PLEASE RUN FOR SCHOOL BOARD AGAIN.

  14. I would like those commenting to recount their experience preparing for and conducting a major meeting off-site. There is a constant running back for materials, testing of equipment, scrambling for last minute updates and fact gathering. If I were on school board or if I were Mr. Eades I would be highly resistant to being pushed to have the meetings off-site. The council chamber facilities are not that great anyway. Many times you cannot hear the speaker because the will not lean in to the mic.

  15. Does anyone know what the vote tally was? I heard Eads worded the agenda item specifically so the board could not discuss meeting at city hall, that only “district personnel” could video the meetings. That is now what Crowley asked to be voted on and seems underhanded to me.

  16. Wow – I did not attend Monday’s school board meeting.

    Lisa – Thanks!

    Televising school board meetings is not the “silver bullet” solution to all of the issues affecting the San Marcos CISD but it’s a start. If televising school board meetings leads to more community engagement and if it attracts one or two more people to run for a seat on the school board then it’s been a successful initiative.

    If John Crowley or Lupe Costilla or any of the other trustees are as bad as some of us say they are then let’s put them on TV so people will know who to vote out of office the next time around…

    Until that time we all will be relying on “second hand reports.”

  17. Since95: You’re probably right. All that extra effort to meet in a different building so that taxpayers and parents with kids can watch decisions affecting their children’s future being made just isn’t worth it.

  18. Watson nails it! placing papers in a brief case…so laborious! Its a tad disrespectful not to even acknowledge when someone is actually trying to help. To bad SMISD does not follow Respect, also a tad ironic since there are Respect posters everywhere on the walls.

  19. I’m not saying we shouldn’t televise, just that the district may have a compelling case for rigging up cameras at the admin building. Technology advances have made that equipment less expensive. I 100% support video of the school board meetings.

  20. The administration building has mold making some sick. I have spoken with people and reviewed the air quality report via open records request. Why should citizens be exposed to that danger? Please take the offer so graciously provided by COSM. And, at least discuss the proposal on the table out in the open. Why has there been no public dialogue on this matter? Do they not understand public perception or not care about public perception? I cannot attend meetings in the adm building. Has there been an action item that citizens can sign up early versus racing to the meeting and standing in line to sign up to speak. Engaged citizens can sign up early for City Council meetings. Does SMISD want citizens who are participating or not? That is the question.

  21. The agenda item read as follows

    “Discussion/Action to Amend BE (LOCAL) to Permit Video Recording and Televising of all Special and Regular Board Meetings by District Personnel”

    So ‘ District Personnel’ is the key word here. This would entail televising at central administration by district personnel rather than at city hall who have their own well-trained equipment operators and thus would not necessitate the district providing them. He assumes no one will know the difference.

    When is this guy gonna get called on the carpet?

  22. Oh please…how would city council react if they were “told” they needed to use SMCISD’s resources to televise its meetings? I don’t think they are rejecting the idea, just that it needs to be on their own terms instead of the terms of the city. To all of you who are screaming foul play…there are several reasons they may not want to start this immediately as has been suggested.

    1. City Hall has less than 40 seats
    2. There is not a policy in place regarding what is televised and how the information will be shared
    3. It is not convenient for SMCISD to go to City Hall when they are conducting their own meeting
    4. Why does this item deserve high priority status…because city council wants it?
    5. Shouldn’t SMCISD address this after they have followed their pwn priority items that include student performance and other items.

    This is a “knee jerk reaction.” Maybe there is not a conspiracy here, but rather a request to follow a policy or process by SMCISD instead of being told when and how they have to do this. I have not heard anyone say they don’t want to do it…just that they want to have input into how it is done!!!!!! It seems that a few board members are trying to make it into DRAMA.

    Doesn’t the district deserve to determine how and when it will put cameras in place instead of being told how they are going to do this?

  23. The argument that City Hall and it’s “40 seats” is not big enough to accommodate the San Marcos CISD is ridiculous. If hundreds of people attended these meetings regularly I doubt we’d be here bitching and moaning about televising school board meetings.

    Making a public meeting MORE public doesn’t really seem to me like an unnecessary hardship that has been placed on the administration of the San Marcos CISD.

    Why is it not convenient for the San Marcos CISD to meet at City Hall? All of the equipment and technology is already there. The only thing being asked of our school board and administration is that they get in their car and drive over there. I’ll even offer driving a trustee or two if it will help!

    This item is a high priority because our community just voted to support our schools to the tune of almost $80 million dollars. As a sign of good faith our school board should be asking the community to watch how their money is spent and how beneficial it will be to the students of the San Marcos CISD.

    In regards to our school district’s priorities specifically related to student achievement. Our school district’s performance was, is, and will continue to be less than desirable until our board actually makes it a priority.

    …As we wait for the school board and the Center for Reform of Schools to craft some ‘silver bullet’ in the form a policy changes our students will continue going to class day after day and they will continue to exit our district as graduates with college readiness rates below 50%, SAT and ACT scores well below the state average, and an overall lack of knowledge of how to be successful after high school. Yes, we will always have our “District Diamonds” or “School Board Sound Bytes” that we can all hang out hat on but let’s just for once have an honest conversation about the 60% of high school students who graduate from San Marcos High School NOT ready for college…

    …I doubt there are enough ‘trades’ available in San Marcos for all them.

  24. childrenatrisk.org has San Marcos HS in the bottom third of all Texas high schools, and the bottom 25% of Austin-area high schools. I think we owe it to our students, to get more people paying attention to the efforts to improve our schools. Televising the meetings would help. For all we know, moving the meetings to City Hall might actually get a handful more people attending in person.

    http://childrenatrisk.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/2013-Greater-Austin-High-School-Rankings.pdf

  25. So far as my eyes can read, there is no item in BE(LOCAL) that addresses the recording of meetings at all. However, this is from BE(LEGAL):

    “All or any part of an open meeting may be recorded by any person in attendance by means of a tape recorder, video camera, or any other means of aural or visual reproduction. The Board may adopt reasonable rules to maintain order at a meeting, including rules related to the location of recording equipment and the manner in which the recording is conducted. These rules shall not prevent or unreasonably impair a person from exercising the right to record a meeting that is open to the public. Gov’t Code 551.023”

    Would the school board prefer parents and citizens to start showing up with their own cameras? The recordings wouldn’t be live, but they could be available on YouTube the very same day.

  26. So Miguel,

    Let me get this correct. We are weak in our academics and this is why we should worry about live television. This is exactly the kind of reasoning that makes no sense at all.

    If we are weak in academics, shouldn’t we spend out time on academics instead of 45 minutes in a board meeting talking about television.

    Miguel…maybe you should go to the meetings in which you are getting information from board members who are trying to push this through.

    If you were an employee of SMCISD in the working world, maybe you would understand the inconvenience. You couldn’t even be bothered to attend the meeting!

  27. The action item to either reject or accept the city’s offer will be on the agenda for June’s meeting. I look forward to seeing all of you there.

  28. Where is Open San Marcos when it comes to raw sewage hitting the river and citizens asking for e.coli data? Where is Open San Marcos requesting that signage be posted at the river entry points to warn residents and tourists of the 15K (estimate) of the raw sewage that hit the river last week? Why does Open San Marcos not respond to facebook e-mails? Who is Open San Marcos? And, when do you meet? How often do you meet?

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