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Aim to partner for public access



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February 13, 2013 - Casablanca may have been on Cheryl McGinnis' mind Monday.

"I look forward to this being the beginning of a great relationship," said McGinnis, president of Clarkston Board of Education to Independence Township Supervisor Pat Kittle. "I hope this is the first of many opportunities, showcasing the fact our two boards can work together."

Kittle presented ideas for a public-access television partnership between the township and school district at the Feb. 11 school board special meeting.

Independence Township's public access program, Independence TV, is funded by PEG fees collected on subscribers' cable bill. The PEG channels are intended to showcase the public, education, and government.

"My opinion is we've been doing a lousy job," Kittle said.

People aren't using Independence TV's Maybee Road facility despite recent renovation and equipment upgrades, he said.

"Clarkston High School has the opposite problem, with kids lined up to learn," Kittle said. "But the high school's equipment is antiquated, not suited to its purpose."

Combining the two would be ideal, he said.

His proposal is to create an independent authority to manage a combined public access operation, transfer about $300,000 in recently purchased video, lighting, editing equipment to the high school, and capital lease payment of about $200,000 a year to the school district.

The proposal would provide students with much needed new equipment and access to community television, something they currently lack, said media teacher Scott Banks.

"Students already produce a lot of television, but they haven't been able to play anything," Banks said.

The school board wasn't asked to make a decision on the proposal.

"This is informational," said Dr. Rod Rock, Clarkston Schools superintendent.

However, school board members spoke in favor of working with the township.

"Your leadership is refreshing," said school board Treasurer Steve Hyer.

The township and school district have a history of not working together, Hyer said.

The school board reached out to the township in 2005, to share in the newly rebuilt district administration building.

"Reception was cool at best at that point," he said.

Partnering on public access television would be a good way to start a working relationship, he said.

Board Vice President Elizabeth Egan asked for a list of other options where the township and schools can share costs.

"Hopefully this will pan out, but if not, where else can we work together," Egan asked.

Kittle already has several in mind, such as cutting grass, community education, information technology, and human resources.

"The list goes on and on," he said. "I hate paying for things twice."

Speaking during public comment, Norm Pardo of Springfield Township said public access television shouldn't be in the high school.

"My opinion is it should stay where it is – I don't think it's a good idea to open the school to the public," said Pardo, creator of ClarkstonTV.com.

The PEG program could succeed at Maybee Road under proper leadership, he said.

"There's no reason why it should be unsuccessful," he said. "They want to destroy it and move it to the schools."

Doing so would create security problems for students. The school district should claim the education portion of the PEG fees, though, Pardo said.

"Give the money earmarked for education to the schools, what's already owed to them," he said.

Banks said thousands of members of the public are already allowed into the school for sporting, theater, music and other events.

Security measures for a public channel could include supervisors on duty, identification badges for members of the public to check out equipment, and limiting public access to after-school hours, he said.

"We will ensure the safety of our students, which is always our number one priority," Rock said. "We will follow all of the laws regarding production and distribution with students and with school equipment."

The current franchise agreement is with the township, with no provision for sharing funds, Kittle said.

The franchise agreement is set for renegotiation in 2015, he said.

The next step is for township and school administrators and attorneys to draft an agreement for consideration by the Township Board and Board of Education, Rock said.

Kittle recommended a joint meeting of the two boards to work out details.

As they work out an agreement, issues include content, scheduling, security, and staffing. A public-access channel should be open to many viewpoints, including those critical of the township and schools, Kittle said.

"That's why an independent authority would be so important, so the school district can remain neutral," he said.

The agreement could include an acceptable-use policy to govern productions and behavior in the high school facility, Banks said.

Kittle first met with school officials after taking office in November. He will next meet with the Independence Television Committee on Feb. 21.

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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