Mike Violette, right, does a live broadcast Dec. 6, 2019 of the Cony at Lawrence boys’ basketball game on radio station WSKW Legacy 1160. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — Cony’s home athletic events will likely take place without television or radio broadcasters present going forward, as the Augusta school board approved a controversial broadcast media policy Wednesday night.

School officials, including Cony Principal Kim Silsby who was one of the prime advocates for the policy she helped draft, have said it is meant to help protect students, especially in a time of increasing use of social media.

Following initial criticism, the policy was altered and the revised policy significantly reduced the fees proposed to be charged to radio, television and internet entities to broadcast Cony sports, which was a concern expressed in the December 2019 meeting. It initially called for $50 for each regular season game and $100 for each playoff game. That proposal was adjusted to an annual $25 processing fee that would cover events for one school year.

But restrictions on broadcasters remain, including a requirement for “objective announcing,” and a ban on inappropriate criticism of officials, coaches, teams, players, schools or other entities. In addition, the policy places restrictions on advertisements that can air and how sponsors can be handled during broadcasts.

Board members approved the final reading of the proposal new policy, believed to be the first of its kind in Maine, by a 5-1 vote. But the vote came after a clash between two board members, both of whom serve on the Policy Committee which brought the policy to the board for approval.

Kati McCormick, a Ward 4 board member, voted against the first reading of the policy last month. She said Wednesday she did so because the committee did not reach out to stakeholders for their input. McCormick also said “sometimes it seems like whether or not a committee reaches out to stakeholders for input is based on the Policy Committee chairperson’s interest in a policy.”

She cited, as an example, Policy Committee meetings last year which she said were moved to accommodate stakeholder interest in an also controversial proposal to add more religious holidays to the school calendar. That policy was eventually rejected by the school board.

Staci Fortunato, Ward 1 board member and Policy Committee chairperson, responded to McCormick: “I don’t appreciate being called out, that was inappropriate.”

“You are also part of that committee. We did work to reach out, you were with me when we invited a media person to a committee meeting in January, and he did not come,” Fortunato added. “If you felt we should have done more you could have reached out. It wasn’t done.”

Board Chairperson Edward Hastings tried to interrupt Fortunato but she continued, stating “If she can point fingers at me, I can give my word as well.”

Hastings asked that board members keep the meeting orderly, and members voted 5-1 in favor of the policy and other policies related to its implementation.

Jennifer Dumond, at-large board member, read from a prepared statement and said the broadcast media policy establishes clear terms and expectations for broadcasters covering Augusta Schools’ athletic events “so there is no misunderstanding and so the educational dignity and propriety of the (Augusta School District) is maintained.”

Katy Grondin, the new assistant superintendent, said online surveys about the policy indicated 64% of respondents felt the policy was positive. Those respondents included 11 parents and citizens. Respondents to previous surveys on the policy included school staff and administrators.

Grondin said some survey respondents who commented said the policy was good for students, while others felt it was unfair and expressed concern Cony athletic events would not be broadcast due to the policy.

Chris Clarke, Ward 2 board member, the only vote against the policy, said if Augusta was going to adopt a policy not in place in any other Maine schools it should take more time to consult with broadcasters to discuss what would work well.

“I really think if we’re going to set trends we should really do our homework and do it right,” he said. “I just don’t think we’re in the right spot right now to be putting this policy in place.”

Central Maine broadcasters Mike Violette and Rob Munzing said Thursday they do not plan to cover any Cony home games, something they have maintained since the policy was first put forth.

Board members approved the first reading, of two required votes, of the new policy in June, in a split, 4-2 vote. Previously the policy was twice turned away by the school board and sent back to the committee which drafted it, for what members said at the time had been a lack of input from broadcasters.

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