Toolkit Post: How To Follow Ann Arbor School Board Decisions

If you are an interested (but busy) citizen, you may want to know how to follow the school board's actions and decisions. When is it important to go to a school board meeting? What happened at the last school board meeting? Given that many meetings go late in the evening, you may not be able to make all--or any--of them! That doesn't mean that you can't follow what is happening.

The examples here are of Ann Arbor's system, but much of this applies to other public school districts as well.

Ann Arbor's System: BoardDocs

In Ann Arbor, the school board notices, policies, agendas, attachments and minutes all flow through BoardDocs, which can be found on the Ann Arbor Schools web page under the Board of Education. BoardDocs is fairly easy to use once you get used to it, but at first it seems as if everything is hidden (because it kind of is--everything is "embedded.")

This is the BoardDocs logo. Many public organizations use BoardDocs or something similar. Click on the link to get to meeting packets, agendas, information about meetings (for instance, where and when they are), and board minutes.

If you go into BoardDocs and choose a meeting (in this example, the one that happened on June 29, 2016), you can see that the meeting will be held at Forsythe Middle School at 7 p.m. "View the Agenda" is a choice on the right. There are other tabs you could choose instead, such as "featured" (which includes a list of upcoming meetings) and "policies" (which guide the district). 

If you want to share a particular meeting, there is a share icon in the top righthand corner. Here, for instance, is the June 29th, 2016 meeting link.

Going deeper into the June 29th agenda, and clicking on the "Ratification of Employment Agreements," the final disposition of the employment agreements is displayed (because this meeting has already happened). So at a glance you can see what the motion said and that the motion carried. Above where it says "Motion & Voting" are attached copies of each of the union bargaining unit's Tentative Agreements. If you choose one you will be able to open it and read the attachment in its entirety. Each of the individual links makes up what would be a traditional "board packet." You can tell that there are attached documents because as you look over the agenda, on the left hand side next to "Ratification of Employment Agreements" there is a small icon that looks a bit like pieces of paper.

But Where Are The Minutes?

Sticking with the June 29, 2016 meeting as an example, scroll down to the consent agenda.

Typically you will find the approval of minutes under the consent agenda. But you might notice that there is no icon here, so how do you read the minutes? Great question, and unless you play around with the system there is no good way to figure this out.  

IF you click on F. Approve Minutes of the June 15, 2016 Study Session/Regular Meeting, then you see this: 

See the icon next to the words View Minutes? That will take you to the actual minutes. 

Although board meeting dates and times for the entire Board (not the subcommittees) are posted on the Ann Arbor schools web site here, that does not include agendas or meeting minutes.

On the plus side: Once you learn to use BoardDocs, the system is fairly easy to use. The documents are attached to the agenda items and can be opened as PDFs. 

On the minus side: It takes a bit of time to learn to use BoardDocs. Agenda items sometimes do not have the documents added before the board meeting. It is not always easy to find the minutes for a meeting.

More Things To Know

When you do find the minutes of the meetings, you may be very disappointed if you are hoping to understand what actually happened at the meeting. Typically, the minutes have the decisions and the votes, but at most a sentence about the discussion that took place. This is unfortunate, because ideally the minutes give an idea of the history of what has happened.

[Local blogger Monet Tiedemann covers the meetings when she can at AnnArbivore, sometimes giving both previews and live blogging the meetings. Lauren Slagter of the Ann Arbor News generally covers them as well.] 

The Ann Arbor school board meetings are generally taped by CTN and can be livestreamed here. At the current time they cannot be watched on demand, and if the school board meeting gets moved (which happens fairly often), they are not always taped. 

So that is a quick summary about how--and where--to follow the school board.