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Riverhead school board exploring option to videotape meetings for residents

At the community’s request, Riverhead school district officials are researching the cost of videotaping school board meetings.

At Tuesday’s meeting, board members discussed the perks of making the videotaped meetings accessible to the public and the potential cost.

The concept resurfaced after Yolanda Thompson of Baiting Hallow brought the topic to the board at a bond presentation last year, board president Greg Meyer said. 

Board member Laurie Downs, self-proclaimed board “watchdog” who videotaped school board meetings for several years, shared how she started videotaping meetings when she was a former PTO president. 

She said she began filming meetings on VHS tapes with the PTO roughly 30 years ago when the New York State law permitted taping public school board meetings. At that time, she said, the PTO connected with Cablevision — now known as Optimum – and members were asked to take a course to operate the company’s video equipment.

For about 16 years, Ms. Downs said, she volunteered to take those unedited tapes to Riverhead Town Hall, where they were streamed on television. Later, when her youngest child graduated from Riverhead High School in 2006, she formed an agreement with former superintendent Nancy Carney to use the school’s camera and brought footage, on CDs, to Town Hall for streaming.

Ms. Downs said “there’s absolutely no way” the district should pay an outside entity to tape the videos. Instead, she said, they could ask students looking for community service opportunities to do it. Alternatively, she said, technology director Robert Hines could film the meetings and stream them on the district website.

Board member Chris Dorr said he agrees videotaping is a good idea, but he’s concerned the tapes may not be displayed properly or one meeting could just be replayed. 

Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez said she’d ask if any students would be interested in filming. Mr. Meyer recommended Sam Schneider, deputy superintendent, contact the town to verify the cost.

The school board is expected to discuss the topic again at its meeting on March 10.