CBE Board Procedures Revisited

Five days before Christmas last year, a working group comprised of Trustees Cochrane, King and Bowen-Eyre brought forward a proposal to make significant changes to the Calgary Board of Education board procedures. After a public outcry and a couple of hours of discussion, the trustees voted to send it back to the working group. It has now come forward again with a few modifications. The following is a summary of the changes with page number references to the proposed new procedures. If something has been removed from the current procedures then the page number will be marked with an asterisk (*) and refers to the page number in the current procedures, rather than the proposed procedures.

Positive changes

  • Board meetings to be broadcast on the Internet and publicly available for two years. It is not clear as to whether the broadcast will be live. Although we had hoped that the availability of the recordings would be three years, in order to correspond with the length of the term of office, this is still a positive move to increase transparency. (p. 27)
  • Board meeting agendas and reports will be provided to trustees six days before the meeting giving them more time to prepare for the meeting. Unfortunately, the same courtesy was not given to the public as the agendas/reports will continue to be publicly available a day in advance of the meeting and if the previous day is a holiday, they will be publicly posted three hours before the start of the meeting. This does not allow for much time for the public to give feedback to their trustees (p. 10)
  • Pre-meeting, from 2:30-3pm, before the board meeting to allow the public an informal opportunity to speak with trustees and the chief superintendent individually and off the record. Although the timing may prove difficult for parents who are either at work or picking up their children from school at this time, it is a positive step to increase public participation and engagement. (p. 31)
  • Public board meetings will start at 3pm, rather than 5pm, so that important work is not being done late at night. However, the public was not consulted on this change and it will probably make it more difficult for parents to attend. Private meetings will start at 11am. (p. 7)

Negative changes

  • Stakeholder reports are now called “public comments” and have been moved from near the start of the meeting to near the end. Members of the public will still be allowed to address the board for up to three minutes after they have finished with policy monitoring, but before they begin action items. This will make it more difficult for the public to know when to be present and it will not allow the public to have an opportunity to comment on the policy work of the Board until after it has already been completed. (p. 13)
  • Any opportunity to ask public questions has been removed. Formerly, fifteen minutes was allotted (although rarely used in full) to answer questions that had to be submitted five hours in advance. The trustees were always able to disallow questions that were inappropriate or that would take too much time/resources to answer, so we are unclear as to the reasoning behind the removal. (*p. 13)
  • Trustee inquiries and notices of motion have also been removed, which means that trustees can only question/debate agenda items. As the agenda is set in private meetings (p.9) there is no way for an individual trustee to publicly represent his or her constituents on any matter unless the rest of the board agrees in private to put it on the agenda. In the introduction to the procedures the working group stated that this is to “elevate the work of the Board over that of the individual trustee.” ARTICS compiled a list of trustee inquiries and motions from last year so that you can determine for yourself whether they were inappropriate for individual trustees to be bringing forward. (*p. 14/17)
  • Informal work session meetings include “deliberations” and are to be considered private, and any trustees who breaches this privacy is subject to “legal claims.” ARTICS is concerned about the use of these weekly informal work sessions. If trustees need to do private work, then it should be done in legally constituted in-camera, private board meetings. The work of the board is required to be done in public according to the School Act (Section 70-1), yet not only have the trustees spent more time in-camera than in public board meetings this year, they have also been having these weekly work sessions where they have discussed such matters as the new Education Act, stakeholder engagement and board policy interpretations. (p. 16/17)

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