This article is the second in a series highlighting Sunshine Week. Sunshine Week is an annual national observance in the United States that promotes open government and freedom of information. It is typically held in mid-March and lasts for one week, hence the name “Sunshine Week.” During this week, journalists, civic groups, libraries, schools, and other organizations host events and activities to highlight the importance of transparency in government and the public’s right to access information. The goal is to raise awareness of the importance of open government and to encourage citizens to exercise their right to know what their government is doing. Sunshine Week was first observed in 2005 and is now recognized by a wide range of organizations across the country.

As the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association was researching how school systems and school boards use their websites to share information, we looked more closely at BoardDocs, a software system used by several school boards in the region.

The software system, which was introduced around 2000, is used by approximately 4,500 clients in the U.S. and Canada, mostly public school systems. BoardDocs also is used by non-profit boards, community colleges and universities, and private and charter schools, as well as local government councils.

The software is aimed at helping boards prepare materials for meetings and use them remotely before, during and after the meetings.

BoardDocs lets school boards post information online ahead of meetings.

BoardDocs is used by about 40 school systems in the region, said Andrea Walsh, senior director, marketing and partnerships for Diligent, the parent company of BoardDocs. Diligent acquired the software system in 2016.

A subscription to BoardDocs costs, depending on what the school system chooses, from about $2,700 to $22,000 annually.

School boards can select options among  two versions — BoardDocs LT and BoardDocs Pro. Both versions let boards digitally create and publish school board agendas, supporting documents, minutes and descriptions of policies.

The 29 school systems surveyed by MDDC don’t all use BoardDocs. Those that do, don’t all use it the same way. Some post minutes of meetings; others do not. Some post agendas with links to supporting documents; others do not.

The software is proprietary, so the client cannot modify it, Walsh said. If a school system drops the service, BoardDocs preserves the data for the district before its site is decommissioned, Walsh said.

David Adkins, vice president of customer success for Diligent, said in an interview that BoardDocs “provides the framework” to enable school boards to organize materials and make them accessible to the public.

He noted that some boards extensively use the service. “There are stylistic differences” in each organization, he said.

The tools BoardDocs provides help boards run live meetings remotely and in person.

Adkins said feedback from clients suggests that the software makes it easier to be more transparent and more efficient.

For Sunshine Week, an annual national celebration of open government, the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association examined public school system websites to assess how easy it is to get key information about public schools in the three jurisdictions. MDDC looked at websites in D.C., all 23 counties and the city of Baltimore in Maryland, and four large school systems in Delaware. The project was led by former Washington Post reporter Miranda S. Spivack, with editing by Frederick News-Post editor Andrew Schotz and contributions from MDDC executive assistant Samantha Savage. Reporters George Berkheimer of The Business Monthly; Sabrina LeBoeuf and Lillian Reed of The Baltimore Sun; and Darryl Kinsey Jr. and Caleb Soptelean of Southern Maryland News also contributed research.

Miranda S. Spivack

Miranda S. Spivack is a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post. She has written extensively about open government issues for Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and the McClatchy...

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