CALGARY — The city's public school board is considering sweeping changes to its meeting procedures that would abolish public input, eliminate individual trustee questions and maintain sole authority to broadcast proceedings.
The working group report prepared by a trio of trustees — chairwoman Pat Cochrane and representatives Pamela King and Joy Bowen-Eyre — says the aim is to make Calgary Board of Education meetings "more effective and efficient."
None of the report's authors responded to a Herald request on Monday for an interview.
However, two trustees who have frequently questioned CBE spending and administration plans say the changes would severely undermine board accountability and transparency.
"This report would take the public out of public education," trustee Sheila Taylor said.
"It restricts the public's voice, and it so limits a trustee's ability to represent voters that I'm not sure I will be able to do my job properly."
A Herald survey found the proposals would make the CBE the only one of Alberta's four metro boards that doesn't allow public input at meetings.
"I'm trying to understand the reasoning behind this," said trustee Carol Bazinet, "because if there's an issue that's important to the public or to our stakeholders I think they should have the opportunity to come forward and address the board."
The proposed changes to be debated at tonight's meeting include:
* "Strategic communication dialogues" in the community would replace stakeholder reports and public questions at board meetings. Under current rules, up to five individuals or groups can have up to three minutes to speak at meetings. Written questions submitted five hours in advance are read into the record if the author is present.
* Trustees would lose the right to ask questions at public meetings or bring notices of motion on matters of individual concern. In the past, Taylor, for example, has asked about board policy to protect gay students from bullying and sought through a motion to have the board review the $285 million lease deal for its new headquarters.
* "Non-controversial and routine items" would only be removed from the consent agenda for debate if a majority of trustees agreed. Currently, an individual trustee can object and require any item to be discussed.
* Trustees would be expected to keep the discussions and deliberations of their "informal work sessions" confidential until such time as they are disclosed at a public meeting. Currently, only discussions at in camera meetings are subject to an obligation of confidentiality.
* "Sensitive reports" would only be available for trustees to read two hours before a meeting and board members would not be allowed to participate in an in camera meeting by phone.
* The CBE would record and make available videos of their deliberations on the Internet for thirty days after a meeting, but would reserve the "sole authority" to make recordings and broadcast its deliberations. Members of the public, including the media, are currently allowed to record meetings and the Association for Responsive Trusteeship in Calgary Schools posts them online.
* Public meetings would start at 3 p.m. instead of 5 p.m.
If approved, the changes would come into effect Feb 1.
But King is asking in a separate motion that the ban on public input at meetings take effect immediately, because the current process "does not allow for two-way dialogue" and limits the board's ability to "correct misinformation" presented by stakeholders.
The move comes in the wake of a report by the ARTICS last month in which the watchdog group criticized CBE administration for ignoring a directive from trustees on how to distribute an additional $19.2 million in provincial funding.
Trustees had voted to distribute the money using a formula that priorized dollars to schools with special needs or ESL students, but chief superintendent Naomi Johnson ordered instead that the money be distributed on a straight per student basis.
Larry Leach, ARTICS president, said he was shocked and troubled by the plan to eliminate public feedback at meetings without having a specific plan on how it will be replaced.
"They could simply change the rules to allow the board to respond to public concerns raised at meetings," Leach said. "Dissent and listening to opinion is something that is fundamental in a democracy, but it's crystal clear this report is aimed at denying the public to express themselves or ask questions about our education system."
Besides ARTICS, parents concerned about potential school closures, lax nutrition policies and assessment of student's character on report cards have made presentations at recent board meetings.
Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said he had not read the proposed changes, but he told reporters he was confident that common sense would prevail at the CBE.
"Trustees are very much aware of the fact, as I am, that we are here at the pleasure of the electorate and the electorate makes some wise decisions every three years, and every four years in the case of MLAs," Lukaszuk said.
"They will only re-elect those who are fully aware that they are there to serve the electorate and not any other purpose."
Edmonton Journal, Tues Dec 20 2011
Byline: Matt McClure