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District 300 board member ‘attends’ meeting aboard an iPad

Modern technology allowed School District 300 Board member this week “attend” meeting even though he was away business trip. Visible

Modern technology allowed a School District 300 Board member this week to “attend” a meeting, even though he was away on a business trip. Visible behind “virtual” board member Steve Fiorentino is real-life member Kathleen Burley.| Dave Gathman/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 28, 2014 7:53AM

ALGONQUIN — Steve Fiorentino, a member of the Community Unit School District 300 Board of Education, knew his financial-planning business required him to be at a conference in California on Monday.

The Algonquin Township resident also knew the school board that night would be voting on one of the year’s biggest political hot potatoes — whether to build a new, $5 million administration building adjoining the Jacobs High School campus in Algonquin and move the special-education and problem-behavior students now attending Oak Ridge School into the present administrative offices adjoining Carpentersville Middle School.

But in this digital age, Fiorentino also realized, he did not have to choose between those two responsibilities. He simply attended the school board meeting “virtually” by setting up a two-way link between his iPad in California and an iPad set up on the board’s meeting table.

Under state law, a member of a school board can attend and vote virtually provided 1.) a quorum of board members also is physically present in the room and 2.) he is missing the meeting because of illness or business, not just because he is on a vacation.

Using computer programs called Skype and FaceTime, Fiorentino’s face was visible to the audience and to people addressing the board as the iPad sat in front of his chair. Through the camera and microphone on the iPad in California, he could see and hear whatever speakers were saying to the board.

There were some glitches, however. The iPad screen periodically would “time out” and go blank, requiring another board member to refresh it. And on the handful of occasions when Fiorentino tried to speak, his words came out garbled. Finally, board member Joe Stevens shut off the iPad’s sound, called up Fiorentino on Stevens’ own iPhone and put that phone on “speaker” mode.

Completely enmeshed in the Apple world, Fiorentino then spent much of the meeting connected visually to it via the iPad and aurally to it via the iPhone.

He cast “yes” votes on a succession of proposals needed to make the administration building/Oak Ridge School switch a reality. However, his participation proved not to be crucial. All those proposals ended with unanimous 7-0 votes by the board, to the dissatisfaction of some of the 70 residents and employees in the audience who opposed building a new district headquarters.

“I also was getting texts from people in the audience during the meeting,” Fiorentino said Wednesday. He said some of them teased him about how “he” had fallen to the floor when someone bumped the iPad off the table at one point.

“It’s not perfect. I think in the future we could use a bigger screen,” Fiorentino said. “But I was able to hear the majority of what was happening. It certainly beats the alternative of missing an important meeting.”

He said he also virtually attended an executive session the board held earlier in the evening. There, he participated in discussing a discipline issue that ended with the board voting to expel one student for the next three semesters.

In another case of virtual participation by a local elected official, the Hampshire Village Board conducted many meetings in 2007, 2008 and 2009 in which Village Trustee Karyn Danielson participated from her home via a telephone set on “speaker” mode.

Danielson then was suffering from an undisclosed chronic illness and said she was too sick to attend meetings in person for months at a time.

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