Calgary Board of Education trustees, Pat Cochrane, Pamela King and Joy Bowen-Eyre have submitted a new set of board procedures to be approved at tonight’s public board meeting. We have serious concerns with several of the proposed changes.
If approved, trustees would get public board meeting agendas and reports two days earlier, but the public will still only have access to them the day before the board meeting, which doesn’t allow much time to read and provide feedback to trustees before they vote. Worse, these new procedures state that if the day before is a holiday, the public won’t be able to view the reports until noon on the day of the board meeting, giving the public a whole three hours before the meeting starts. (p. 9-79) Currently, in the case of a holiday, the reports are released on the business day prior to the holiday. (As an example of how long it might take to peruse the reports, tonight’s report is 230 pages.)
Also of concern is a new provision for informal briefing sessions “for the purpose of providing background information, clarification, and in-depth discussion with respect to issues of relevance for Trustees” (p. 7-96). As there is no indication that this is only for confidential matters, we question why the public could not be privy to such information. Becoming informed on CBE issues is difficult enough as it is, and such meetings should be opened up to the public as well.
Of greatest concern is that the proposed procedures have completely removed all forms of public input at public board meetings. Both stakeholder reports and public inquiries were removed. Stakeholder reports allow any member of the public to address the board for three minutes and have included topics such as school closures, nutrition, and bullying. Public inquiries allow members of the public to ask questions about any matter and have included questions on administration expenses and transportation.
We acknowledge that the current procedures were very limiting in that they did not allow for immediate CBE response to stakeholder reports or for individuals to ask for clarification on the answer provided to their inquiry, however, this does not justify eliminating them entirely. If anything, they should be expanded and improved upon. They have instead been replaced with “strategic communication dialogues” with no procedures as to how, when or where these will take place, or a timeframe for implementation. It is also unclear as to whether the trustees will control the topics of discussion at these “dialogues” or if the public will determine the agenda.
To put the icing on the cake, if approved, the new board procedures would not come into effect until February 1, 2012, but that is not soon enough for Trustee King who has put forward a motion to eliminate all stakeholder reports and public inquiries effective immediately. They must really not want to hear from the public during their two meetings in January.
Finally, the procedures also state that the CBE “reserves the sole authority to make video or audio recordings of its meetings and to broadcast those recordings. Videos will be made available to the public on the Internet for a period of thirty (30) days from the date of the meeting” (p. 7-114). It is unclear as to whether the meetings will be broadcast live or not. While we applaud the CBE for making the video available, even if only for a month, we find it disturbing that they are giving themselves sole authority to make recordings of a PUBLIC meeting. What possible reason could they have for not allowing the media or other members of the public to record their meetings? We would also like to see videos available for the entire elected term of a board of trustees. The public has a right to know how their trustee conducted themselves in all of their board meetings during their term of office. If it is too expensive to keep the video online, then they should allow other organizations to provide this public service free of charge rather than banning all recordings.
We invite all members of the public to contact their trustees to provide feedback on these new board procedures. Obviously three trustees, Chair Cochrane, Trustee King and Trustee Bowen-Eyre, all believe that these new procedures will improve the CBE’s public board meetings. We hope that you will take the time to let them know your thoughts and consider making a stakeholder report or public inquiry at tonight’s board meeting. It may be your last chance.