October public vs. private meeting time

On October 11 & 12, the CBE Board of Trustees, held a “special meeting” on October 11 & 12 which was not advertised. Special meetings were also held July 4 and November 16, without public notice. This concerns us because the spirit of the School Act is clear. Trustees should conduct their business in public. You can look to other government bodies to understand how they manage private meetings. By contrast, the City of Ottawa has clear guidelines to promote open meetings, similar in spirit to the City of Calgary policy on Transparency and Accountability. These guidelines include the requirement to advertise meetings, publish agendas and reports seven (7) days in advance and to state the reason to move in camera and the specific subject matter to be discussed. In Ottawa, closed meetings (in-camera sessions) may only be held to discuss:

  1. The security of the property of the municipality or local board
  2. Personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees
  3. A proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land by the municipality or local board
  4. Labour relations or employee negotiations
  5. Litigation or potential litigation, including matters before administrative tribunals, affecting the municipality or local board
  6. Advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose

Meetings may only be closed to the public if:

  1. The meeting is held for the purpose of educating or training the members
  2. At the meeting, no member discusses any matter in a way that materially advances the business or decision-making of the board or committee.
We’d like to see the CBE bring in a policy dictating what is appropriate for private discussion. We feel that they do too much of their business behind closed doors. Case in point: On October 25, Trustees discussed “feedback on the new Education Act” at a private meeting. This is a topic of huge public interest.  We should be able to see what trustees are saying about it and how they are representing our interests.

In October, the CBE trustees met far more in private than in public. In total, they met for 25 hours, 19 minutes.

Public time for October: 6 hours, 43 minutes (or 27% of the total board meeting time)

Private time: 18 hours, 36 minutes (or 73% of the total board meeting time)

Breakdown by meeting:

October 4: Public meeting time was from 5:00pm to 6:50pm for 1 hour, 50 minutes of public meeting time. Private time from 7:05pm to 8:19pm for 1 hour, 14 minutes in private. In private, the trustees appear to have drafted a letter.

October 11 and 12: A private meeting from 9:03am to 5:02pm on October 11, with a break from 11:00am to 11:53am, continued from 9:08am until 4:15pm on October 12. That’s a total of 14 hours, 13 minutes in private. There were no motions to indicate the subject of the meeting, however L. Dawson and R. Quinn of Aspen Group International were in attendance, so it is safe to assume the meeting included coaching on the governance role of the board of trustees.

It’s not clear why this discussion should be held in private. If the board is changing the Ends (goals) of the public school system in Calgary, we believe parents and community members would like to have input into those discussions.

October 18: Public meeting time was from 5:01pm to 10:26pm, with two recesses for a total of 32 minutes. This included both the organizational meeting and a regular board meeting. Private meeting time was from 10:36pm to 10:49pm. Topics discussed in private include: awarding a $2.1 million contract to Oracle, requesting new modular units for certain schools, a private letter to the president of ASBA.

October 25 private meeting: Time: 3:02pm to 5:58pm. Total private meeting time: 2 hours, 56 minutes. Topics discussed include: allowing ASBA to represent the CBE during tri-partite discussions, community newsletter inserts, the Education Centre Financial Status Report, feedback on the proposed Education Act (Bill 18).

Once again, we’ll remind you that this list includes only meetings that are posted online and does not include “planning committee” meetings, attended by all trustees. Our goal by publishing this information is to shine the light on the volume of work being done by trustees behind closed doors.

September public vs. private meeting time

In September, the CBE trustees had more private meeting time than public meeting time. In total, they met a brief 5 hours, 46 minutes.

Public time for September: 2 hours, 47 minutes

Private time: 2 hours, 58 minutes

Breakdown by meeting:

September 6: Public meeting time was from 5:00pm to 5:26pm for 26 minutes of public meeting time. No private time.

September 20: Public meeting time: 5:04pm to 7:34pm. Recess for  nine minutes at 6:18pm. Total public meeting time: 2 hours, 21 minutes. No private time.

September 27 private meeting: Time: 3:00pm to 6:08pm. Recess for 10 minutes at 4:35pm. Total private meeting time: 2 hours, 58 minutes. Topics discussed include: construction project status report, transferring schools to the Francophone school district, Chief Superintendent’s update, the Chief Superintendent’s emergency executive succession plan, vacation days and coverage for the Chief Superintendent, ATA local 38 liaison committee minutes, minutes of a special meeting on July 4 (restricted), labour relations update.

Once again, we’ll remind you that this list includes only meetings that are posted online and does not include “planning committee” meetings, attended by all trustees. Our goal by publishing this information is to shine the light on the volume of work being done by trustees outside of the public realm and contrary to the spirit of the School Act section 70 (Open meetings).

August public vs. private meeting time

In August, the CBE trustees met only in private. Note that no public notice was given of the public meeting, although the entire time was spent in camera.

Public time for August: 0 minutes

Private time: 1 hour, 17 minutes

Breakdown by meeting:

August 15 : Private meeting time from 10:00am to 10:10 am Topics discussed: collective bargaining with the construction and maintenance union.

Reconvened from June 28 (held on August 15) : Private meeting time from 10:10am to 11:17am. Topics discussed include: the sale of the old Education Centre, the engagement of CB Richard Ellis and a human resources agreement.

ARTICS urges CBE Trustees to meet in public

The following is the text of the stakeholder’s report that the ARTICS Chair gave at the first CBE board meeting in the new education centre on September 6, 2011.

My name is Larry Leach and I represent the Association for Responsive Trusteeship in Calgary Schools.

Welcome back everyone to another new and exciting school year. ARTICS is pleased to continue the good work we started in April of last year to work with you, as a Board and Trustees, to ensure that your work is transparent, that you are accountable to Calgarians and that you engage citizens to build the best public education system possible.

To that end, we have compiled some interesting data on your private vs. public meeting time for last year.

From data posted online, you met for almost 27 hours in public last year. But your private meeting time was 22 hours and 17 minutes. There were four months, September, January, February and March when your private time exceeded public, in some months quite significantly. We’ve provided a full breakdown for you.

It is important to note that private meeting time went down in April, May and June. We certainly hope this trend continues in 2011-2012 school year as many important decisions face us in another challenging budget year.

What is important to consider is that the totals do not include your informal meetings like weekly trustee work sessions, “committee of the whole” meetings and “planning” sessions – which we estimate average another two to three hours per week of private time.

You are doing MUCH of your work in private, which is contrary to the spirit of the School Act, which says that School Boards must hold their meetings in public.

It’s also clear that many of the things you discuss in private, hold great public interest. This includes:

  • Ranking criteria for capital projects,
  • 10-year student accommodation and facilities strategies,
  • Education Matters,
  • Report on paperless board meetings and,
  • From last year, the report on Aboriginal Education.

Why are these being discussed in private?

ARTICS challenges trustees to be more transparent in 2011 and :

  • Stop holding these informal or “committee of the whole” meetings
  • Open all working Committee meetings to the public
  • Develop a policy to determine what topics are appropriate to be discussed in-camera and limit them to land, lease, legal and personnel
  • Include the reason why in any motion to go in-Camera.

It is fitting that we are making this presentation to you at the first board meeting in your new Education Centre. We have searched meeting minutes since 2006 and we can’t find any indication that this, the CBE’s biggest financial decision in its history was EVER discussed at a public meeting.

The deal was recently described as “the worst lease deal in Calgary’s History.”

You have to wonder if our students would be saddled with this bad deal for the next 19 years – if you had been transparent about the deal from the beginning.

Good governance comes with being transparent.

Thank you

April Public vs Private meeting time

In April, the CBE trustees had more public meeting time than private time. It wasn’t by much, considering a number of lengthy school closure debates took place.

Public time for April: 7 hours, 39 minutes

Private time: 6 hours, 37 minutes

Breakdown by meeting:

April 5 : Public meeting time was from 5:01 to 8:46 p.m.  Recess for 15 minutes at 6 p.m. and then eight minutes at 7:40. 3 hours, 22 minutes of public meeting time.

Private time: 8:55 to 11:32 p.m. Two hours, 33 minutes. Private topics included: Student Fees and Student Transportation Plan. (Because three trustees declared pecuniary interest, there were not enough trustees for quorum, so no motions were considered.)

April 19 : Public meeting time: 5:00 to 9:42 p.m. Recess for  nine minutes at 6:51, 16 minutes at 8:29. Total public meeting time Four hours, 17 minutes.

Private Meeting time: 13 minutes: The only thing we know? Motion: THAT the Board approves the recommendation as contained in the private report dated April 19, 2011.

April 26 private meeting: Time: 3:03 p.m. to 6:54 p.m. for a total of three hours, 51 minutes.

Topics include:  Teacher suspensions, Labour Relations Update Report, Disposition of Lands at Riverside Bungalow, demolition of two portables at Abbeydale School, Letter from Minister regarding disposition of old Education Centre Building, Construction Projects Status Reports, three re-appointments to Education Matters Board of Directors, EL-7 Compliance Update received for the record. Board of Trustees directs Administration to construct a budget process to maximize the opportunity for trustee involvement . . .

Once again, we’ll remind you that this list includes only meetings that are posted online and does not include informal “work sessions” held every Wednesday. Our goal by publishing this information is to shine the light on the volume of work being done by trustees outside of the public realm and contrary to the spirit of the School Act section 70 (Open meetings).

March: Private vs Public meetings

For March, total public time was 346 minutes (5hrs 46min)
Private time was 366 minutes, (6hrs 6min)
This is the second month in a row where private time has been greater than the public time. It’s interesting to note that the Board “plans” to have their meeting time divided between 1/3 private and 2/3 public. So that is the expectation the public has about how much of their work should be done in private.  If you care about transparency, which is one of ARTICS main issues, these hours spent in private, on many topics that have any relation to “land, legal or personnel” is worrisome. A public board should do their business in public.

March 1 Board Meeting:
Public Meeting time: 5 to 7: 54 p.m. with a nine-minute recess. (165 min)
Private meeting time: 8:07 p.m. to 9:44 p.m. (97 minutes)
Private topics: In this over 90 minute session, the board wrote a letter to the minister of education about the impact of recent budget cuts on the CBE. As well, they approved a report on the Chief Superintendent’s remuneration.

March 15  Board Meeting
Public: 5 p.m to 8:17 p.m. with a 16 minute recess. (181 minutes)
Private Meeting: 8:26 to 9:44 (78 minutes)
Private meting topics: “appropriate processes to dispose of the Education Centre at 515 Macleod Trail S.E. subject to the Board’s final approval as to the sale.”

March 22 Private Board Meeting
Private meeting time: 3 pm.. to 6:11 p.m.  (191 minutes)
Topics include: 3-Year capital plan received for info, Communication to Schools and Parents “as discussed”, 2009/10 Audit Observations, the consent agenda included: Construction Projects Status Report, Education Centre Financial Status Report, Riverside Bungalow report, liaison report regarding EducationMatters, private report regarding P3 Schools.

In an effort to keep Calgarians informed about the work of the CBE trustees, ARTICS will compile data on private meeting time versus public time. I’ll remind you that the only topics that we know are discussed are the ones that have motions about them. As well, private meeting time does not include informal board meeting time, including work sessions, held every Wednesday.

Public meetings vs Private meetings

There is an expectation, outlined in the School Act,  that School boards meeting in public and conduct their business in public. But a snap shot of the CBE minutes from February show that isn’t the case with Calgary’s public board – at least that month.

If you look at just February of this year, our trustees met in private for a total of 4 hours, 37 minutes. They met in public for two hours and 26 minutes. So, twice as much private time as public time in one month alone.

(This does not include any “informal” board meeting time such as trustee “work sessions” that are held every week.)

The Edmonton Public School Board recently amended their policy on what can be discussed at private or in-Camera meetings. The goal was to remove any flexibility the board may have and limit all in-camera discussions to Land, Legal, and Labour matters.

The Calgary Board of Education does have any such policy. They don’t refer to public vs private in their governance documents.

It is interesting to watch the Edmonton Public board debate on the topic. Clearly, this school board is committed to doing its business in public. You can watch it on their web log of board meetings.

If you’re wondering what CBE trustees are discussing in private, below you’ll find a list.  Each month, we’ll try to provide a wrap up of private meeting time versus public time and we’ll include a list of topics discussed in private. (As far as we can tell because there are no agendas and only items with public motions will make the minutes.)

March 1 Board Meeting:

Public Meeting time: 5 to 7: 54 p.m. with a nine-minute recess. (165 min)

Private meeting time: 8:07 p.m. to 9:44 p.m. (

Private topics: In this over 90 minute session, the board wrote a letter to the minister of education about the impact of recent budget cuts on the CBE. As well, they approved a report on the Chief Superintendent’s remuneration.

Feb. 22 Board Meeting

Duration of Private Meeting: 3 p.m. to 5:55 p.m with a 10 min recess (165 min)

In this three hour meeting, trustees approved salaries/contracts for exempt employees, the trustee liaison report for Education Matters, real estate listing for Albert Park School, adding four modular classes to David Thompson School, Labour Relations Update, operating costs of $1,169,000 for the new Education Centre  and $189,000 for the Dr. Carl  Safran Centre, awarding of contracts for the Career and Technology Centre at Lord Shaughnessy with a revised budget of $9.57 million, new electricity contract, Telus lease agreement for WH Cushing Workplace School, eight new modular classrooms for McKenzie Town School, Ministerial Approval for re-location of Westmount Charter School to William Van Horne and Parkdale Schools,

Feb. 15 Board Meeting

Public meeting time: 5 to 6:34 p.m. (94 min)  Private Meeting time: 6:48 to 8:40 p.m. (112 min)

Topics: Audit committee minutes etc.

Feb. 1 Board Meeting

Public Meeting Time: 5 to 5:52 p.m. (52 min)