There has been a lot of conflicting information about the new Calgary Board of Education policies. Here are a few frequently asked questions in order to help clarify a few things.
1. Are these policies significantly different from the old policies?
From what trustees have said in the board room and at a recent CAPSC meeting, the answer is no. The existing policies have just been refined and clarified. Several trustees have said that the policies should now be easily understood by the public, although they are quick to point out that the concept of policy governance is not well understood by the public.
2. Will there be more or less financial oversight under these new policies?
The Board of Trustees felt that they were “micromanaging” by approving transportation fees, spring staffing (i.e. budget allocation to schools) and expenditures over $500,000, so these three items were removed in the new policy. Otherwise, the financial policies have not changed much. If you were satisfied with the level of financial oversight under the previous policies, you will not have a problem with the new financial policies. However, policies are only as good as their implementation. While there is a possibility that there could be less financial oversight, there is also the possibility that there could be more.
3. Why is the Board of Trustees approving expenditures under $500,000 but not over $500,000? Isn’t that backward?
Under the previous policies, trustees only approved expenditures over $500,000. Now, trustees will no longer be approving any individual expenditures. Instead, trustees will be informed of “significant transfers of money within funds or other changes substantially affecting the organization’s financial condition.” It is not specified whether the trustees will be informed before the purchase or contract is final, or afterwards, but the trustees have delegated approval of all expenditures to the Chief Superintendent. We also do not have a definition of what “significant” means in the context of a billion dollar budget.
4. How will the public be involved in setting school fees if the trustees no longer approve them?
Under the previous policies, the only fees that the trustees approved were transportation fees. All other fees were set by the CBE administration, and the trustees were informed of what they were. Now, it is completely up to the administration to involve the public in determining acceptable fees. The policies do state that the Chief Superintendent will “reasonably include people in decisions that affect them.” As fees are a source of revenue, they will also be included in the annual budget, which by law, must be approved by trustees. However, transportation contracts are usually sent out before budget approval, so it would be unlikely that any changes would be made to transportation fees during the budget deliberations.
5. Are the trustees approving anything anymore?
Trustees will continue to approve that which is required by the School Act, such as the budget and school/program closures. Trustees have also retained the authority to name schools and other CBE facilities. All other approvals have been delegated to the Chief Superintendent.
6. So, what exactly do trustees do?
In GC-3, the new Board Job Description, it describes what the trustees are supposed to do. They are to advocate for the CBE and students, engage stakeholders, write and monitor policies, appoint an external auditor, approve collective agreements, name schools, and do anything else required by law.
7. How will trustees hold CBE administration accountable for their decisions?
The trustees monitor their policies according to a schedule, which has not yet been released. The Chief Superintendent interprets the policies and decides what data she will use to show whether she is in compliance with the policies. Essentially, the administration determines themselves whether or not they are in compliance, and the trustees then vote on whether or not they agree. When ARTICS asked what happens should the Chief Superintendent be found in non-compliance, the response was that the trustees would hold the Chief Superintendent accountable through monitoring the policies. The complete question and response can be found on our video of the meeting at 45:20 minutes.
8. Who wrote these policies?
As the writing of the policies was all done in private, in-camera meetings of the Board of Trustees, we do not know. Although it is the work of trustees, there have been many, many references to following the advice of their U.S. consultants (the same who helped them develop their policies in 2005), their legal counsel and the Chief Superintendent and other CBE administrators. There were no public consultations or engagement initiatives done prior to or during the writing of the policies.
9. How much did the trustees pay these U.S. consultants to help them clarify their policies?
The trustees have met with their consultants on three occasions, each time for two days. In response to a public question on January 24, Chair Cochrane stated that they had received and paid two invoices to the Aspen Group for a total of $48,174.45. It is unclear as to whether or not this is for two of the sessions or all three sessions. The trustees have said that they will continue to work with their consultants in implementing the policies.
10. Why were these policies written in private? Aren’t the trustees legally required to hold meetings in public unless it is in the best interest of the public to do so in private?
The trustees are permitted to go in-camera when a majority of trustees votes that it is in the public interest to go in private. Trustees Bowen-Eyre, Ferguson, King, Cochrane and Lane voted that it was in the public interest to do this work in private. Trustees Bazinet and Taylor voted against. It is common practice for preliminary/brainstorming work to be done privately. However, since the trustees were planning on doing all three readings and approval of the policies in a single meeting, and seemed surprised when Trustee Taylor brought forward an amendment at the public meeting, it is safe to say that the trustees went far beyond preliminary deliberations in their private sessions.