Paperless Board Meetings: A Sign of the Times

Paperless Board Meetings: A Sign of the Times

In March 2020, the world began to isolate due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It soon became apparent that essential services—like public schools—would need to find new ways to function. School boards in Texas began meeting online so there would be no pause in critical planning for their schools.

For the school boards that were already using an online meeting preparation platform to prepare for and conduct meetings, the transition was simple and fast. But even while using online platforms for packet preparation, a surprising number of boards still relied on paper board packets to conduct meetings, making the transition to virtual meetings less efficient—and in some ways hazardous.

Instead of simply pushing a button to deliver meeting materials, administrative staff had to coordinate the production of hard-copy packets or go into the office to do it themselves. Others, like printing staff and mail carriers, had to make risky trips into facilities to create or deliver packets.

The situation evoked an often heard but now particularly timely question: Why should school boards go paperless?

Some of the advantages of paperless board meetings include:

Prepared for paperless board meetings and a digital world

When the pandemic started to shut things down, the Nacogdoches ISD Board was prepared.

“We didn’t miss a beat,” said Holly Anderson, administrative assistant to the superintendent and board. As TASB BoardBook® users for 15 years, the district was accustomed to digitally planning for meetings and functioning without paper.

Dana Devoll, executive assistant to the superintendent at Giddings ISD, had a similar experience.

“While working from home, my superintendent and I logged on to the meeting and talked through each item,” Devoll said. “I would type what he said, he’d refresh his page to see how it was looking or sounding, both of us could add documents from our files without him sending to me to add, we could copy and paste from various press releases, websites, etc., and an entire packet was completed in a very short time.”

Everything was done without a sheet of paper to contend with, not to mention stacks and stacks of paper to print, collate, tab, package, and deliver. Giddings ISD has been paperless for almost five years.

Devoll can’t imagine the “good old days” when paper packets were compiled. “I’m so glad that was all gone before I started!” she said.

Anderson agrees. “When I started this position [13 years ago], I was shown an entire closet full of two-, three-, and four-inch binders that had been used for printed packets, as you didn’t know how many pages it was going to be. I was told the entire morning after the board meeting was dedicated to shredding the thousands of pages of documents.”

Holding on to paper

Although other districts have adapted well to paperless agenda packets, many still hold on to paper. Eliminating paper from the board meeting process not only saves money, time, and the environment, but also shows that your district is successfully adapting to the digital world your students are expected to master.

There are several reasons why some boards have yet to shake the paper habit:

It’s just a habit

“I don’t even know if the board had any reason to keep using paper except that it was what had always been done,” said Devoll.

The district switched to a paperless approach when a new superintendent suggested the change to help cut costs. The board discovered they liked working on laptops much better than thumbing through large, bulky paper packets.

It’s just a preference

According to Russell Roberts, implementation specialist for BoardBook, one reason for paper use is that some board members simply prefer what they know. They are used to having a paper packet and like to make notations on paper. Most online board meeting technologies, including BoardBook, offer digital notetaking solutions that improve on traditional pen and paper by being searchable, editable, and accessible from multiple devices.

Technology isn’t provided

Some districts may not provide devices for board members—a situation that will likely change as increasingly everyone connected to schools is expected to operate in a digital environment. “Preparing for and conducting board meetings with paper and without electronic devices, while requiring students and staff to use devices and digital content, is a significant disconnect,” Roberts said.

Board members who are unfamiliar with technology will feel frustrated at first. But as with most things, the first (and sometimes only) hurdle is getting used to something different. Anderson said she takes the time to work with members individually to show them how to read information and navigate comfortably.

Eliminating paper from the board meeting process not only saves money, time, and the environment, but also shows that your district is successfully adapting to the digital world your students are expected to master.

The advantages of paperless school board meetings

School districts make the decision to operate sans paper for a number of reasons. The main incentives are cost and time savings, ecological considerations, and increased efficiency. But other advantages often emerge after the change.

Cost savings

Eliminating paper not only cuts costs of paper, but also of ink, tabs, binders, envelopes and boxes, printing equipment and printing services, postage, storage, and disposal, as well as costs associated with staff labor.

How much a district might save by going paperless depends on the size of the district, its processes, and other factors. But when considering paper alone, given that the average page count per packet is approximately 100 pages (often closer to 200 pages or more), the average board consists of seven members, and most boards meet at least once a month, you don’t have to get out a pencil to realize that’s a lot of paper.

“By cutting these costs, districts can apply more of their budgets to important projects, like educational programs, facility repairs, transportation, and school safety,” Roberts said.

Time savings

Board packets take days, sometimes even weeks, to compile. Using paper packets further extends the process. Compilers must:

  • Scan and print all documents
  • Order necessary supplies, like paper, ink, binders, tabs
  • Make last-minute additions or corrections, requiring reassembly and repagination of all documents
  • Collate and assemble documents into packets
  • Create mailing lists or labels
  • Arrange for mail pickup or personal delivery (as sometimes is the case in rural districts)

As the adage goes, time is money. When weighing the costs of paper versus a paperless agenda platform, labor-intensive tasks like these must be viewed in terms of dollar amounts.

Reduced environmental impact

It goes without saying that paper is not an environmentally friendly choice. Even with recycling options, so much of the paper districts use still ends up in a landfill. If a district embraces initiatives to lessen the impact it has on the environment in other ways, like reduced energy use, then going paperless should be part of that discussion.

Increased efficiency

Nacogdoches ISD’s Anderson said going to paperless school board meetings is all about efficiency.

“When we switched to BoardBook, revisions could be made without having to renumber pages with a number stamp and recopy the board packet,” she said. “Agenda contributors have a shared drive that they put their action sheets, attachments, and presentations in. I organize them into department folders and then drag and drop them into their agenda item.”

“If I get a request to add or revise an item, I can do it quickly and send out a new agenda, which makes me look very efficient,” she added. “If I get a request to replace attachments or information, I can also do that easily—and it is very much appreciated by the contributing staff.”

Giddings ISD’s Devoll agrees that efficiency is the key to successful board meetings. She likes the simplicity of adding attachments or agenda items in BoardBook quickly and seamlessly without having to get a document entirely reprinted and repaginated.

Time spent creating minutes has been drastically reduced, Devoll added, noting that she appreciates that no one has to deliver packets all over the county.

“Unless a document has to be signed by someone, I print virtually nothing relating to a board meeting,” Devoll said. “I’m able to do the other tasks this job requires in a normal workday instead of staying late, coming in early, taking work home, and still wondering how to complete everything prior to publishing the board packet.”

“By cutting these costs, districts can apply more of their budgets to important projects, like educational programs, facility repairs, transportation, and school safety.”

A simplified meeting experience for trustees

Clearly, compiler efficiencies—and the budget—improve when paper is nixed. But how else do board members benefit from a paperless meeting process?

For one thing, they don’t have to dig through a pile of papers to find documents during a meeting.

“We made the switch to BoardBook® Premier earlier this year,” Anderson said, “and just recently we tried the follow-the-leader function. A board member told me, ‘I think this is what it would be like to drive a Tesla—I just sat back and watched it go!’”

Giddings ISD also recently upgraded, and Devoll says the board is now able to see each agenda item and attachment one piece at a time with just a click, easily toggling between the two.

Additionally, with everything online, trustees don’t have to remember to take their packets to meetings.

“Situations arise when trustees believe they will have time to go home between their workday and the meeting, but due to events beyond their control, they may be unable to do so,” said Devoll. “If they didn’t bring the packet with them at the beginning of the day, they will be ill-prepared for the meeting and/or have staff scrambling to get another packet printed.”

Before the meeting begins, board members can receive and peruse the agenda packet more easily without paper. Materials are on their laptops, and they can receive packets quickly with no worry about whether the packet is at the front doorstep getting soaked in the rain.

Other advantages for board members include:

  • Increased security
  • Simplified searches, cross-references, and links
  • Increased speed
  • Better collaboration through shared documents

Of course, situations arise where printing may be necessary. Most online agenda platforms provide that option when hard copies are needed for archives, public review, or board members who are not quite ready to make the switch. Roberts noted that BoardBook Premier can produce printable PDF files that can be paginated.

“We made the switch to BoardBook® Premier earlier this year,” Anderson said, “and just recently we tried the follow-the-leader function. A board member told me, ‘I think this is what it would be like to drive a Tesla—I just sat back and watched it go!’”

Leading in a digital world

School boards have a unique opportunity to serve as role models for students, district staff, and the community in a world that functions online. They can set the standard for efficient operations in the digital realm, just as they expect staff and students to do. And they can lead through uncertainties and challenges with quicker responses aided by digital technology.

Emergency situations like hurricanes and flooding (and now a global pandemic) have required Texas school boards to act quickly, which is complicated when paper is required. To prove themselves as the leaders they are, school boards must entrench themselves in a whole new world—a world without paper.

Make your meetings paperless from start to finish

Find out how BoardBook® Premier not only saves you time and money, but also streamlines the full meeting and decision-making process for you and your board.

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