Will Trustees elect a new chair?

Each year, the Calgary Board of Education Trustees elect a Chair, Vice Chair, liaisons and committee heads for the year. Last Tuesday June 17th at the regularly scheduled board meeting, Trustees approved a report for a trial of new board procedures, which includes scheduling the organizational meeting in June of non election years, rather than October. (The report can be found here on page 27 of 169.) Trustees are wasting no time, scheduling this organizational meeting a week later, Tuesday June 24th.

I would like to focus on the role of Chair — to lead meetings and speak publicly on behalf of the board. Let’s take a look at the past year. Trustee Sheila Taylor is ending her first year as board chair. The year started off with a bang when an agreement was drafted that all seven trustees signed stating they would not speak with the media without notifying one another and that the chair was the only one to speak on behalf of the board. Shortly after the agreement was signed three trustees reportedly pulled themselves off of that agreement including Taylor. This resulted in much animosity from the remaining four, but subsequently all seven trustees have been quoted in the media this year. In our observations of the meetings, Taylor has developed (after a slow start) the ability to lead meetings that are as efficient as can be expected. Her ability to encourage all trustees to have a say and to rule on procedures based on Roberts Rules of Order has been evident in the last few months. She has had to balance her own views as a trustee with the views off all of her colleagues when she speaks as board chair. Much business done during her first year: a new Chief Superintendent was named, new schools were announced, the CBE is taking the lead on construction 11 projects and 4 modernization projects, trustees approved another fee hike, which seems to be an annual rite of passage and administrations annual blame government funding strategy while presenting a budget that raises fees and shows a growth in administration spending.  Trustee Taylor voted many times on the losing side of 4-3 votes. As a result, some may question the chair’s leadership while others might point out that leadership often goes against conventional wisdom. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which point of view has value.

A likely nominee for Chair is current Vice Chair Joy Bowen-Eyre. There is little evidence of meeting leadership as she took the role just once for a brief period while the chair brought forward a motion. Her comments in the media have been few and far between and for the most part, are in lock step with administration’s view. When debating a motion, Joy often speaks about her own personal experience with the schools her children attend which sounds like fantastic schools. Our current Vice Chair had a missed leadership opportunity which the public may not have noticed. During an in camera (private) meeting the Chair had left the room. The 6 remaining Trustees discussed calling a reporter (Jeremy Nolais of Metro) about a story he ran that day. A leader would have not let this phone call happen. As Vice Chair, Joy not only had the authority, but an obligation to not let the reputation of the organization be tarnished as it was. There was no leadership from her during the call and she spoke in the background referring to Jeremy several times as “the 8th trustee”. Our take on this call and all relevant links including the audio of the entire call can be found here.

Long time Vice Chair under former chair Pat Cochrane, Lynn Ferguson could also be viewed as a contender for Chair. Lynn has strong views. Like them or not. Lynn often speaks highly of administration at public meetings. She brings a wealth of knowledge of the history of the board having sat as a trustee since October of 2004, she is the longest serving trustee. Lynn’s weakness as a potential chair is media relations. She does not often speak in the media and when she does appears nervous and stiff. She was also involved in the phone call with Jeremy Nolais and had much to say.

I am not sure the other four trustees are interested or will put their names forward. Judy Hehr, Amber Stewart and Trina Hurdman are all in their first year as trustees and Pamela King seems to be just finding her voice as a trustee now in her third term. Perhaps one of them may be in line for Vice Chair? Trustees Hehr, Stewart and Hurdman have all shown themselves capable of speaking to the media, being quoted many times throughout the year. Stewart led the board procedures committee which may be the landmark achievement of this boards first year (time will tell). Hurdman has brought many motions forward and seems to have been affective in escalating the work of the board and Hehr’s years of experience working with the board as a teacher and principal brings that perspective to her work. All have shown they are capable of added responsibility should their colleagues agree.

Whatever your view on who would be the best chair, it is up to these seven elected trustees to decide. Their decision will show their priorities for leadership and their hope for the future of the Calgary Board of Education.

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