CBE Says No to Transparency

It’s fitting that one of the first items posted by ARTICS on its blog is about the recent decision by the CBE trustees NOT to broadcast its board meetings on the Internet.

One of our goals is to improve the transparency of school boards, specifically the CBE. By choosing not to move forward with this CBE trustees are saying quite clearly that they don’t want transparency. All Calgarians own the public school system. We have a right to understand how the people we elect as stewards of the system are doing their job.

First, a bit of background on the decision.

Earlier this year, Trustee Sheila Taylor asked administration to prepare a report looking at the cost and feasibility of web-casting the board meetings. She was looking to Edmonton, where trustees have already done this.

The report came back suggesting it would cost $3,000 per meeting and would have an upfront cost of over $20,000 for cameras and other equipment.  (See reports for the Jan. 19 meeting)

She then put forward a trustee inquiry asking administration if there was any way to lower the costs. The answer came back at the next meeting and it was yes – reducing it to $1,500 per meeting. There was also a lot of discussion from administration about how making the meetings available online could become good teaching moments and could be used as work experience for students. (See minutes for Mar. 1 meeting)

Taylor then put forward a notice of motion. Her motion to broadcast Board meetings on the Internet was debated at the March 1 meeting.

Taylor argued that watching meetings is a totally different experience from reading minutes (especially since minutes are just synopsis of debate and don’t even tell readers which trustees asked questions or participated in debate.) She also said the Board shouldn’t expect people to come downtown at 5 p.m. for a meeting – they should be striving to be modern, accessible and transparent.

Trustees Joy Bowen-Eyre and Carol Bazinet spoke in support of the motion. Bowen-Eyre felt this was an opportunity for trustees to play a leadership role in reaching out to the public. She said she was concerned about costs, but felt it was worthwhile.

Trustees Pamela King, Pat Cochrane, George Lane and Lynn Ferguson all argued against the motion. King felt her constituents weren’t interested. Lane said he thought fewer people would attend meetings, and that would be a bad thing. He thought they preferred to attend when items of interest to them were being discussed. Cochrane argued the motion dealt with communications issues in a piecemeal fashion and felt trustees should look at the Board’s broader communications strategy. Ferguson felt the move was risky, especially if unsavory or unpopular topics were discussed.

The motion was defeated 4-3.

In a very interesting bit of propaganda, the CBE issued this Press Release after the board vote headlined, “CBE Trustees Decide Now Is Not the Time for Web Casting.”

The only problem is that the entire release is false. It says that “The Calgary Board of Education’s Board of Trustees agrees that webcasting public board meetings will happen but now is not the time.”

The Board said no such thing. They voted against the motion to broadcast, period end of story. There was no amendment to say we’ll do this later, or when it costs less, or we’ll continue to study it. They said NO.  There are no motions or administration work that is ongoing about this.

Cochrane is quoted:  “While we believe that webcasting will be part of our communication in the future, it’s difficult to make a new investment when we face budget challenges for programs that matter most to students and parents.”

The Board’s next business at that March 1 meeting was to approve a motion to spend $30,000 on consultants to work with trustees on the Board’s governance model.

Voters have spoken in recent elections, wanting more transparent government at all levels. Public education is no different. Streaming of Public meetings would have been an enormous statement by the trustees that they respect the public desire for responsiveness, accountability and transparency – Larry Leach, Chair of ARTICS

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