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Familiar message, new forum

BC budget meeting paints bleak picture in person and online

Attendees at a Bethlehem Central School District budget forum Monday, Jan. 24, probably weren't surprised by the message of fiscal calamity put forth by administrators, but there was one new aspect to the yearly meetings: many participants didn't even leave the house.

This was the fist year the district coupled a webcast of the proceedings with an interactive chatroom, allowing residents to interact with administrators and pitch questions along with the audience gathered in the Middle School library.

The bitter cold Monday evening probably didn't hurt matters, but the online version of the meeting at its peak recorded 135 visitors (more than in attendance at the library, which still saw a strong turnout), all of whom were able to chat and submit questions. Communications Specialist Matt Leon and Assistant Superintendent Jody Monroe ran terminals answering queries and calling out questions to the room.

I thought it went very smoothly, said Monroe after two hours of manning the system. The users at home seemed to enjoy it too, she added. "We got a lot of thank yous."

The system will be in place for the next budget forum on Feb. 7, and more focus will be put on making sure questions are repeated for those at home so they aren't lost when it comes to the real-time discussion.

A full video of the chatroom feed and a transcript of the chat are available at the district's Web site, www.bcsd.k12.ny.us.

Though the cyberspace element of the meeting was praised as a success, the heart of the discussion " the district's 2011-12 budget plans " was decidedly less cheery. After several years of falling state aid and the expectation this year will be as bad or worse, the message BC administrators delivered on Monday was a familiar one.

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