Middletown turns to neighboring city for school board broadcast help

Residents of Middletown Schools are getting a clearer picture of how the governing board of their city schools conducts its meetings thanks to a Hamilton’s city TV cable operation.

The recent one-year anniversary of an experimental agreement between Middletown Schools and TvHamilton has given Middletown school families, school employees, residents and taxpayers vastly improved online video and audio from school board meetings, said district officials.

And Middletown is one of several area school systems that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 have placed a greater priority and resources to making school board meetings — either live or on a delayed basis — available for public viewing without having to attend in person.

The trend toward more remote viewing accelerated during the occasionally contentious local school board meetings of the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years where public discussions sometimes centered on hot-button issues such as student masking, student quarantines, hybrid class scheduling and other COVID-19 related issues.

And while the recently completed school year saw less of that sort of meeting volatility, other issues such as allegations of Critical Race Theory instruction occasionally took the place of pandemic issues in some local districts.

Middletown Schools officials said given the increasing importance of COVID-safe transparency for public viewing of board meetings, the district contracted with TvHamilton in May 2021.

“In response to the pandemic, we tried to live-stream the meetings on Facebook Live, but we had trouble with the audio,” said Middletown Schools Spokeswoman Elizabeth Beadle.

“Board of education meetings are professional meetings and it quickly became clear we needed a professional to handle the filming. Hiring a videographer elevated the quality of production and allowed us to reach more people,” said Beadle.

Online broadcasts bring the board meetings to the public, rather than forcing the public to attend in person if they want to observe or speak to the board, she said.

“In Middletown Schools, we believe in access and transparency. With the professional (TvHamilton) live stream, we’re able to reach our community and teachers where they’re at two Mondays a month.”

In 2015, Middletown TV cable ended its operation, which had included some local broadcasts of city school board meetings.

The cost for Middletown Schools of using the Hamilton TV cable company, which also broadcasts meetings of the Hamilton Board of Education, is $350 per meeting, she said.

Middletown Schools’ annual operating budget is $75 million.

Publicly elected school boards in Ohio control millions of taxpayer monies, make major and sweeping decisions on the operations of local schools and hire both district superintendents and treasurers.

Area school officials have said another advantage of providing online viewing of board meetings is the public can choose when it watches since the meetings are recorded and available on school district websites or on digital platforms like Facebook or YouTube.

And teachers and other school employees have more options to see the leadership of their school system in action.

The reaction to the upgraded online broadcasts among the Middletown school community - and the general public - has been good, said Beadle.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

“Not only do our taxpayers and parents appreciate the ease of watching the meetings, but also our teachers. By live streaming on the district’s YouTube page, everyone has access to either watch in real-time or after the fact.”

The next Middletown board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on July 25, at the city building at One Donham Plaza, 4th Floor.

The public can watch school board meetings on the district’s YouTube page.

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