WITH THE PROFUSION of iPads, e-books and smartphones, it's not hard to imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when paper will be a relic.
Until that time, however, there are plenty of people who have a special affection for the tangibility and texture of the printed page. And then there's Ward 9 school board member Art Beaudry, whose attachment to parchment, as we learned at Monday's meeting, is especially fierce.
It began with a simple and novel motion, from Ward 8 board member Erika Connors, to have the board "go paperless." In other words, to have the "packets" - the stacks of materials the board reviews and votes on - only be available online, in downloadable form. Members could still pick up hard copies at the district office.
In short order, Beaudry: accused other board members of singling him out; called one member "mister benefits man"; and prompted Mayor Ted Gatsas to bring down his gavel and threaten to declare Beaudry out of order.
As is well-known, Beaudry doesn't "do email," as he's often put it. He doesn't like to spend a lot of time in front of a computer. He prefers returning phone calls, and that he often does, as his constituents would probably attest. He is one of the more engaged - and passionate - members of the school board, sometimes to the chagrin of his colleagues.
And yes, maybe the supreme irony is that Beaudry is the chairman of the Information Technology Committee.
Connors is a relative newcomer to the school board and one of its younger members. She was irked to learn, given the district's financial woes, that its employees were driving around to deliver the packets to school board members. In the case of the Food Services department, the director himself sometimes makes the rounds.
"I think it's a waste of resources ... to drive around the city to deliver packets," Connors said during Monday's meeting.
Other members of the board were clearly receptive to the idea of going paperless.
Ward 11's Jason Cooper put the question to Superintendent Thomas Brennan whether he thought the reams of paper devoted to packets for the 14 school board members couldn't be better used.
"I think there's a better way to allocate those resources," Brennan said.
"In other words, in a way that's best for the children," Cooper said.
It was then that Beaudry brought up the "B word."
"There are a lot benefits that I don't take that others take. Maybe we should bring that up again," he said.
Beaudry was referring not so delicately to the fact he is one of the few members of the school board who opts not to take the district's health and dental coverage. Both Cooper and Connors receive the benefits. Collectively, covering the school board members costs the district upwards of $100,000 a year.
Cooper interrupted Beaudry to say, "Move the question."
And Beaudry angrily responded, "No, we're not moving the questions. I have the floor, mister benefits man."
Hopefully that nickname won't stick.
With Gatsas gaveling the meeting back to order, the question was moved, and the motion was passed overwhelmingly, with only Beaudry and his ally Debra Gagnon Langton voting against it.
Later in the week, Beaudry was still rankled by the vote. "The amount of work I do for the district, it seems to me another slap in the face," he said. "We've got board members who haven't shown up for committee assignments in a year, but nobody says anything about that."
Connors said she had no intention of singling out Beaudry, nor did she anticipate he would have such a strong reaction. "This was not a personal issue by any means. It's about what's best for the school district, not individual board members," she said. She echoed a suggestion from at-large board member Kathy Staub, who proposed that the packets be delivered via inter-office mail to the school that's closest to Beaudry.
Connors also noted that Nashua is considering a similar move. An alderman there has proposed a paperless policy for all its elected officials.
How does Gatsas feel about this Brave New World? After all, he's both a strong proponent of technology in the classroom and personally partial to old-school communication methods, e.g. paper, phone and face to face.
"It is what it is," he said. "The new members think paperless is good, and I can't disagree with them."
- - - - - - - -
The paperless debate Monday was a discordant coda to what was otherwise an exceptionally productive and harmonious school board meeting.
The board made quick work of several motions, including one that would call on principals to produce class schedules at the end of the school year, rather than just before school starts again in the fall. A cloud had lifted on the board a couple of days earlier, when it voted unanimously to select Debra Livingston as the district's new superintendent - with only a couple of weeks to spare before Brennan walked.
The comity at Monday's meeting was enough to prompt Brennan to ask, "Where the heck has this been?"
Gatsas was also unusually buoyant.
"What'd you have for breakfast this morning?" Dave Gelinas, the board's vice chairman, asked the mayor.
"If we can go down the same path, I'm happy to lead," Gatsas replied.
- - - - - - - -
Gatsas was troubled by one matter that came up early in the evening. It turns out that the additional $1 million the aldermen managed, after much deliberation and calculation, to send over to the district would only result in the hiring of four additional teachers, once retirements and vacancies were filled, according to estimates from district Business Administrator Karen DeFrancis
This didn't jive with Gatsas' calculations.
It was perhaps a sober reminder that the final $156.7 million school budget was still nearly $3 million less than the budget Brennan said was necessary to hire enough teachers to ensure that all classes were below the state minimum standard of 30 students per class.
Other board members also wanted to take a closer look at the new budget picture, but wanted to see the figures in black and white.
"I love budget discussions as much as the next guy, but I like to have numbers in front of me," said Ward 3 board member Christopher Stewart.
Gatsas, for his part, said he intends to examine the numbers more closely with DeFrancis.
"I have a lot of respect for her, but I want to go over those numbers again," he said.
Ted Siefer may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @tbsreporter.