On April 13, 2015, there will be a by-election to fill a vacancy on the CBE board of trustees. Both for those considering running for election and those researching their vote, we want to address the work of the public school trustees in Calgary.
The board has seven (7) trustees, each of whom represents two city wards. Those two wards contain between 20 and 40 schools, depending on the area in the city. Trustees are expected to be familiar with the issues that affect their schools, respond to parents of students in those schools, and attend events to which they receive invitations.
Trustees also have regular board meetings (both public and private) as well as informal work sessions. These meetings average between six and nine hours per week. Add to that preparation time of reading reports, responding to questions from constituents and attending events (see above), the job is expected to take about 20 hours per week, some of which may be in the evening. For this half-time work, trustees earn a salary of about $45,000.
The Alberta School Boards Association has put together much more detailed information about the purpose and responsibilities of school boards and trustees. For the last 4 years, ARTICS has encouraged and advocated for Trustees to be more accountable, transparent and responsive to the public.
The City of Calgary has announced some important information about the by-election for Calgary Board of Education public school board trustee in wards 11 & 13.
Nomination Day is March 16, from 9:00am to 12:00pm at City Hall in the Council Chambers. If you want to be a candidate in the election, you need to come in person, with completed nomination papers containing at least 25 eligible signatures, and $100 (cash is preferable). If you are late or if you don’t have the signatures or the fee, you cannot be a candidate.
The nomination form can be picked up at the Election and Information Services office on weekdays during business hours. When you pick it up, you will have the choice of signing the public or the private register. The public register is available for anyone to see and should be used by most candidates. The private register is not available for public viewing and makes sense mainly for those still undecided about whether or not to run.
At noon on March 16, the opportunity to become a candidate closes. However, candidates are given 24 hours within which to request that their name be removed. After that time, even if a candidate indicates a desire to withdraw, their name remains on the ballot.
The vote will take place on April 13, 2015. Voting locations will be announced online later this month, and we expect most will be within public schools. There will also be advance votes for those who will be out of the city on election day.
The CBE Trustee by-election in Wards 11 and 13 will be held on April 13, 2015. We will be updating this information as it becomes available, right up until election day. ARTICS wishes all candidates the best of luck and encourage all voters to learn about the candidates and vote for the person who best represents you.
Please let us know of any additional candidates or information to add. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order by last name.
CAPSC is hosting a Candidate Forum March 31st, 2015 7-8:30 pm at Chinook Park School 1312 75th Avenue SW.
Herald Candidate page from 2013: http://www.calgaryherald.com/business/Wilf+Phillips+Candidate+Calgary+Board+Education+Wards/9053308/story.html
Much of law is based on precedent. Much of our human behavior is also based on that.
On Monday a judge ruled in favor of the defendants in a case where a group of residents in Scenic Acres filed court papers to block or delay the building of a Francophone school in their community.
So what are the messages this decission sends to the public? Firstly and rightly so, you had better come with a better argument against development of a school in your community than “it will take away our prized green recreational space” and “it will add traffic to our neighborhood.” These arguments may play well in your community with those of like mind and they may even play well in the court of public opinion, but they clearly have little impact on a judge and the law. Secondarily it sends the much simpler message that you can’t go above the head of the school board with much success.
Then what is the message this sends to the Boards of Education? Sadly, it is “we can do what we like, when we like and how we like”. Even though the Boards of Education are legally bound to engage the public in processes of building schools and program or school closures, the process that they follow is clearly flawed. Every year groups of parents and citizens are fighting their own school boards over decisions made with very little public consultation. Every group, including the two groups that have gone to the courts, have all commented that the CBE in particular as an organization, does not follow their own policy when it comes to properly informing the public about opportunities for engagement, and encourages very little dialogue. These managed sessions leave the public feeling as though their voice and concerns are not heard.
So while one might think that the school board had better listen to parents and citizens or be forced into a costly court battles, the reality is much different. Since Mayland Heights School succeeded in avoiding a closure motion in 2011, nothing has changed in the CBE public engagement strategy. Since 2012 when Roland Michener School was saved from closure by the residents in Marlborough Park, nothing has changed in the CBE public engagement strategy.
Until the Calgary Board of Education Administration and Trustees take seriously the role of representing the public, engaging them on important decisions and come to the situation with a framework instead of a ready made decision, more tax payers dollars will be wasted on fighting with the public. Citizens shouldn’t be suing their own public school board and the school board should not make the public feel as though they have to.
The board of trustees has goals or objectives for the operation of the public school system. They call their desired outcomes: Results. As an example, in yesterday’s board meeting, the administration attempted to show that reasonable progress is being made toward Academic Success. Likewise, we (as members of the voting public) have expectations of our trustees. We expect them to be transparent, responsive and accountable to the public.
During the December 2, 2014 public board meeting, the Trustees voted 5-1 in favour of holding a by-election in wards 11 and 13. This was a great move in support of local democracy and in support of providing a trustee to be accountable specifically within wards 11 and 13. Despite our doubts, the board of trustees did the right thing.
Furthermore, trustees also discussed, debated and made motions around some serious areas of concern from reports of some Grade 9 PAT exam results. (It should also be noted that Grade 12 diploma exam results received a commendation for the Chief Superintendent). It is refreshing to see trustees honestly raise areas of concern, respectfully debate positions and move forward in agreement.
There is a wise saying that “if you aren’t making improvements, you are going backwards.” It seems that too often, CBE trustees applaud, praise and repeat tired phrases like “we have the best education system in the world,” without looking for areas of improvement. That seemed to change yesterday, however, when trustees discussed how our “world-leading education system” can be made even better.
It is our hope that this meeting signals a turnaround for the board, characterized by respectful and honest dialogue about what the CBE is doing well and where improvements can be made. At ARTICS, we see in this one meeting that trustees have made reasonable progress toward our expectations of accountability, transparency and responsiveness. We commend you.
On a recent trip to Ireland and during a brief lesson on Irish history, I stood in front of the original Irish Parliament (now a bank), where in 1801 the parliamentarians decided to vote themselves into history to join the United Kingdom, essentially voting themselves out of a job. At the time, the United Kingdom had much of the power over Ireland when it came to land ownership and many other economic controls. I learned that Jonathan Swift of Gulliver’s Travels fame spent most of his time as an Irish political commentator and said of this Irish Parliament “They have very little power and desire far less”.
Fast forward to 2014 and move to Calgary and we have a similar historic equivalent. In 1993 The Alberta Government under Ralph Klein took taxation powers away from school boards leaving them to rule over a budget they had little way of adding revenue to in any significant way. This made the boards less independent and more dependant on the provincial government. Alberta Education holds the purse strings, the curriculum, the grants, and controls the school act that governs education. The power left to school boards was to deal with the budget they are given.
This is why when I heard the quote I immediately thought of The Calgary Board of Education. There have been many people engaged in school board politics debating on whether or not Trustees are necessary or add any value to the school system. Now the board is faced with the decision of whether or not to hold a By-Election for a vacant seat given up by Sheila Taylor to run provincially in a by-election.
Trustees have launched a survey (on their website until November 24th) to gather input from citizens as to whether or not to hold a by-election. What is generally held as an automatic in Federal and Provincial politics when members resign is now up for debate at the local school board level. The first question asked on the survey is “How would CBE students benefit from a by-election?” Other points brought forward against holding a By-Election include the cost, a reported $150,000, the lack of voter turnout in previous by-elections and the level of representation that some Trustees think is necessary with constituents.
These four points could be made in debating the value of having Trustees at all in the Province of Alberta. Be careful what you wish for Trustees. Whatever the results of the survey, if Trustees fail to call a By-election, “They have very little power and desire far less”.
Since Sheila Taylor resigned her seat as a trustee for Wards 11 and 13, much has been written and said about a possible by-election. It might amaze most voters that this isn’t a cut a dried decission. Someone resigns, 3 years left in the term, there should be a by-election, right? Well, looking at the education act and interpretations lead one to believe there is some grey area and choice for the Trustees. In the latest statement from Board Chair Bowen-Eyre, 25 days after the resignation, she says “Trustees are continuing to investigate the issue of a by-election.” “The Board has corresponded with all school councils and principals in Wards 11 and 13 to encourage them to contact the Board of Trustees at any time should they have any questions.” “We continue to seek confirmation about costs and logistical issues, as well as seeking input from the public. Trustees need to be certain about these aspects.”
OK? Now what? We continue to seek input from the Public, how? How do parents, who may not have been at the parent council meeting in Wards 11 and 13 when this correspondence took place share their thoughts? How is this feedback measured?
Now we have a survey. The questions lead one to respond no due to costs and “How would CBE students benefit from a byelection?” The survey can be found here: http://fluidsurveys.com/s/byelection2014/.
You will see 3 leading questions prior to asking the one question that anyone should care about, “Do you think there should be a By Election”
It will be interesting to see how the results are interpreted by the Trustees, the Administration and the media.
Please also consider sharing your opinion with your Trustee:
Wards 1 & 2 | Joy Bowen-Eyre
Wards 3 & 4 | Lynn Ferguson
Wards 5 & 10 | Pamela King
Wards 6 & 7 | Trina Hurdman
Wards 8 & 9 | Judy Hehr
Wards 11 & 13 | Vacant
Wards 12 & 14 | Amber Stewart
On Friday evening (November 9th, 2014), at 8:12 pm a tweet came on to my Twitter feed from the Chair of the Board:
Keeping in mind that the organization has an official Twitter account and that there are 5 other Trustees and a search of “Council of School Councils” comes up with this result on Twitter: https://twitter.com/search?q=Council%20of%20School%20Councils&src=typd . 16 hours after the first tweet appeared, other than a retweet from me, no one else has tweeted this information during the launch of the survey on it’s first day.
The “survey” as it is promoted is looking for less information that a restaurant comment card.
Survey can be found here: http://fluidsurveys.com/s/COSCNov2014/ (deadline November 18)
The restaurant comment card is an ongoing customer engagement tool for retailers to keep on top of issues when they arise. Perhaps this approach could be used by the board and send these out to parents once or twice per year to ask “how are we doing?” To ask 3 open ended questions to determine how parents want their official stakeholder to look leaves much open to interpretation and almost impossible to measure the results and come up with a plan. Parents a deserve better way to engage on this issue and better communication and promotion than a Friday evening tweet.
On October 14th Calgary Board of Education Trustees voted to make the Council of School Councils (COSC) the “official voice” of CBE parents. So how does that work? COSC is a meeting, not an organization. It is not registered, has no structure, no executive and to date has voted on nothing. How does this become the “official voice” of Parents at the CBE? Almost a month out from that decission and I have no clearer answers than I did watching the meeting where they made the decision.
The October 29th COSC meeting is where Chair Bowen Eyre promised discussion” about how they may serve as parent stakeholders in the future.” As I write this, there are no notes, votes or discussion posted on the COSC page on how this discussion went.
Now there is a survey: (deadline is November 18th)
- What are your thoughts on the possible ways COSC could participate as an official parent stakeholder?
- Do you have any specific concerns or questions?
- Do you have any suggestions for us to consider?
So now you can tell them how you want COSC to operate as an official parent voice, after the decision to make them one has been made. Do the survey at: http://fluidsurveys.com/s/COSCNov2014/ and add your voice. Either COSC will change what it is and it’s mandate, or there will be no parent voice at the CBE. It’s a shame that at present there is no voice when we had a perfectly good, well organized longstanding parent voice in CAPSC.
And while you are in the survey mood, stop by http://capsc.ca/ and weigh in as they decide how they more forward as an organization. If you have time Wednesday night, attend the special CAPSC meeting 7pm Raddison Park School.
This is an important time to have your say as parents.
You may have noticed we changed our online home to ARTICS.CA. It’s much easier to type and is filled with the same content and same goal of encouraging our elected Trustees to be Transparent, Accountable and Responsive.
We hope you enjoy the new site and encourage you to share the site with others. Without public support of these ideals, democracy is harmed little. Our Public school board should be the most accessible form of government we have. We will point out times when it is not and shine a spotlight on it.
We encourage your comments on our site, our facebook page and our twitter account. Discussion is the key to understanding and good decission making.