Has the rookie CBE Chair gone rogue or overstepped her bounds?

For the second time in a week, we are asking the same question. Did trustees meet and approve this? So far, we find no evidence, no motion, and unanswered questions to the Chair on Twitter.

This time, newly minted rookie Chair Bowen Eyre has penned a letter advocating the Education Minister, not meet with residents opposed to a Francophone school being built on a park in their neighborhood. Many have lamented “why would a community be opposed to a school in their neighborhood” trotting out charges of NIMBY (not in my backyard).

Two big issues are at stake that tend to get lost in the “I’m right if you are wrong” argument. Firstly, why is it not OK for a publicly elected Education Minister to meet with concerned citizens? Should it not be his sworn duty and obligation to discuss issues and concerns with communities? Could a better decission be made if you listen?  It’s up to our government to get things right. In an article is Metro, area Councillor Ward Sutherland lamented the Francophone board has had no Community Engagement strategy and added “Then the city has to deal with the fallout of the traffic issues and all the complications because they just chose not to listen to what the best solution was.” Perhaps the city and the publicly elected area Councillor should be involved in the process? We think so.

The second is why is a publicly elected school board of Trustees advocating that the minister not speak to its electorate in the building of a school that is not even theirs? Or did they? Did trustees meet on the letter or the positions taken in the letter? Did they vote to send it? Were they even informed before the letter was sent?

If the new Chair acted on her own, this is a very troubling development. We hope the Chair will focus on the many issues within the Calgary Board of Education and spend her time controlling what she can control.

The phone call

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There has been much discussion in the media and on social media about the phone call. For those not aware, 6 of 7 Calgary Public School Trustees made a 21 minute phone call to Metro Reporter Jeremy Nolais (full story, audio and transcript here). Much has been made of the call from Trustee Hehr asking a reporter who his sources are, the disdain towards other trustees “using the media” for their own agenda. Other media focused on Trustee King’s assertion that the public would have no impact or say on the CBE’s capital plan, which is what the call was all about. All issue’s are in ARTICS purview and all are valid concerns, but much has been said that we agree with.

There are a few other concerns ARTICS would like to bring forward here. Clearly with a 21 minute phone call, there is MUCH to discuss. By the letter and spirit of the law, when the majority of the board is together it constitutes an official meeting. As such, 6 of 7 Trustees in a room together is an official meeting. The chair of the board, Sheila Taylor had reportedly left the room prior to the phone call. So if it is an official meeting and the chair left the room, who is the leader? The Vice Chair would be the likely assumption. If you listen, or read the transcript, there was not one instance where the vice chair took any type of leadership role. In fact, quite the opposite, she was vocal in the background calling the reporter “the eight trustee”. I will admit that I can’t even hazard a guess as to what that means? It was stated several times by the Vice Chair of the Calgary Board of Education Trustees.

Some trustees obviously asked to make this call. Trustee Hurdman made the call. Was there a vote? Did the majority of the trustees agree the call was the right course of action? We can’t be sure. If the majority of the trustees in the room had agreed the call was to be made, should it not have been made by Vice Chair Bowen Eyre? Should she not have chaired it, controlled it as one voice at a time. If you listen to the call, you will hear quite clearly it is reporter Jeremy Nolais trying to being order the situation. And who was it who took control to end the call? Trustee Amber Stewart. Not the Vice Chair who was the ranking member in the room.

The point of the call? To discuss with the reporter issue’s with the story he reported on a motion to release the CBE capital plan early (story here). The point in a nutshell was that the trustees claim reporter said 4 trustees in particular voted down a motion, when in fact the 4 trustees had voted the motion out of order. So to the public, does it matter whether they voted the motion down, or voted the motion was out of order? The result is the same, the Capital Plan, which ranks new school priorities and has been the topic of much parent angst, will be released one day prior to it being approved by trustees, not one two weeks as the motion had asked.

Next, 2 trustees brought up past news stories as a reason to not speak with this reporter, one of which was not reported by him. The other, brought up by Trustee Hehr was first reported by the Calgary Herald in November, 2013 as an apparent “Gag order” (story here). The other story in September 2013 was reported by CBC and the Calgary Sun over a trustee wisdom sharing conference in Palm Springs (Story Here). So 2 publicly elected trustees are holding on to stories that ran 4-6 months prior.

Trustees Ferguson and King addressed the actual reasons for voting the motion out of order, Ferguson adding “The document is not ready to go. It’s in draft form.” King saying “Any feedback that we would get isn’t going to influence the actual decision of the capital plan.” If the document was “massaged” to be taken from draft form, and the public feedback would not have an impact, then why not release it early for public to understand it?

Last I would also like to address public comments on social media around the idea of the Education Minister disbanding the board or certain trustees resigning. ARTICS does NOT support this. We wish to encourage your locally elected representatives to be Accountable, Transparent and Responsive. That’s it. We do not wish the board to be disbanded, we wish of them to to their work in public and with the public to make the best possible decisions for our public school board. My public school board, your public school board and their public school board. We hope we can all draw a line in the sand here. We hope lessons were learned? We sincerely hope the public apology is sincere and we can move forward doing the Public school boards work in public.

June public vs. private meeting time

In June, the CBE trustees met in properly constituted meetings of the board for 11 hours and 7 minutes. Once again, the board is showing its apparent disregard for the School Act and public accountability by meeting far longer in private than public. To be fair, it should be noted that Trustees Bazinet and Taylor voted against going in-camera for the Board meeting on June 26.

Public time for June: 4 hours (or 36% of the total board meeting time)

Private time: 7 hours, 7 minutes (or 64% of the total board meeting time)

Breakdown by meeting:

June 12: This was a regularly scheduled public meeting that began at 3:00pm and lasted until 5:40pm. The board moved in camera at 6:02pm and adjourned at 8:32pm. The public meeting lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes, while the private portion lasted 2 hours and 30 minutes. Based on the motions made after the private session, it appears that trustees discussed leasing a building to a charter school and revised the contract of employment of the chief superintendent.

June 19: This public meeting lasted from 3:00pm until 4:20pm. The board then moved in camera from 4:37pm until 6:34pm. The board spent 1 hour and 20 minutes in public and an additional 1 hour and 57 minutes in private. During the private session, they discussed the disposition of a property and an accompanying communications plan, as well as the use of the proceeds. They also accepted the mediator’s recommended terms in regards to the dispute with the Staff Association and authorized a new employment agreement for the staff association.

June 26: The regularly scheduled private meeting began at 11:00am and continued until 1:40pm for a total of 2 hours and 40 minutes. Based on the motions made, trustees discussed their annual work plan, discussed the work of the audit committee and approved the name of the new NW high school. They also responded to a survey on the Local Authorities Election Act, received correspondence, an update from the chief superintendent and a construction project status update. The board also approved an energy retrofit program for lighting in 46 schools at a cost of $4.3 million to be paid with a loan, if authorized by the minister. It isn’t readily apparent why any of these topics could not be discussed in public.

Once again, we’ll remind you that this list includes only meetings that are posted online and does not include working group meetings, attended by all trustees. It has been suggested that trustees meet for approximately two hours each week at informal work sessions, or 8 hours per month. If those were accounted for, it would mean the trustees met for approximately 80% of the time in private.

 

May public vs. private meeting time

In May, the CBE trustees met for in properly constituted meetings of the board for 19 hours and 51 minutes.

Public time for May: 11 hours, 14 minutes (or 57% of the total board meeting time)

Private time: 8 hours, 37 minutes (or 43% of the total board meeting time)

Breakdown by meeting:

May 1: This was a regularly scheduled public meeting that began at 3:00pm and lasted until 7:21pm, with a 21 minute break. The board moved in camera at 7:34pm and adjourned at 8:28pm. The public meeting lasted 4 hours and the private portion lasted 54 minutes. Based on the motions made after the private session, it appears that trustees discussed an “employment matter” with follow up scheduled for the May 22 private meeting.

May 15: This public meeting lasted from 3:00pm until 6:49pm. The board then moved in camera from 7:10pm until 10:15pm. At that time, the board reconvened the public meeting until 10:19pm. The board spent 3 hours and 53 minutes in public and an additional 3 hours and 5 minutes in private. During the private session, they discussed the appointment of a governor to EducationMatters and two people to the audit committee, as well as “audit committee, other issues” which were reported in the news around this time. The other issues were not resolved, but referred to the May 22 private meeting.

May 22: The regularly scheduled private meeting began at 11:03am and continued until 3:49pm with a number of recesses totalling 61 minutes. Based on the motions made, it is impossible to discern what trustees discussed during the 3 hours and 45 minutes they met in private. However, we note that “legal counsel representing various interests” attended.

May 29: This public meeting lasted from 3:00pm until 6:21pm. The board then moved in camera from 6:57pm until 7:50pm. At that point, the meeting adjourned to the call of the chair. The board spent 3 hours and 21 minutes in public and an additional 53 minutes in private. There were no motions made after the in camera session, so it’s not possible to tell what they discussed. There is also no record of the conclusion of the meeting.

Once again, we’ll remind you that this list includes only meetings that are posted online and does not include working group meetings, attended by all trustees. It has been suggested that trustees meet for approximately two hours each week at information work sessions, or 8 hours per month. If those were accounted for, it would mean the trustees met for approximately 16 hours in private, or almost 60% of the time was spent behind closed doors.

 

April private vs. public meeting time

In April, the CBE trustees again met longer in private than in public. In total, they met for 10 hours and 41 minutes.

Public time for April: 5 hours, 10 minutes (or 48% of the total board meeting time)

Private time: 5 hours, 31 minutes (or 52% of the total board meeting time)

Breakdown by meeting:

April 3: This is the first time the new board procedures came into effect, meaning that meeting times were moved earlier in the day. The public meeting began at 3:03pm until 5:50pm, with a 16 minute break. The board did not move in camera. The public meeting lasted 2 hours and 31 minutes.

April 10: This was the regularly scheduled in camera session for April. It began at 11:00am, with two trustees opposed to moving in camera. The meeting concluded at 4:31pm. From the resulting motions, it appears that the board discussed revising the public meeting agenda template (two trustees opposed), selected the Distinguished Alumni for EducationMatters, discussed delegation of authority to the chief superintendent, received a media scan update, reviewed audit observations from 2010-2011, viewed specific student fees, received a construction status report and the chief superintendent’s update. The private meeting lasted 5 hours and 31 minutes.

April 17: The public meeting began at 3:00pm and continued until 5:54 with a 15 minute break. Again, the board did not move in camera. The public meeting lasted 2 hours and 39 minutes.

Once again, we’ll remind you that this list includes only meetings that are posted online and does not include working group meetings, attended by all trustees. It has been suggested that trustees meet for approximately two hours each week at information work sessions, or 8 hours per month. If those were accounted for, it would mean the trustees met for approximately 18 hours and 41 minutes in private, or about 75% of the time was spent behind closed doors. The School Act (Section 70 “Open Meetings”) requires trustees to meet in public (“(1)  The meetings of a board shall be held in public”) and the board is allowed to meet in private only when they feel it is in the public interest (“(3) when a majority of the trustees present at a meeting of the board are of the opinion that it is in the public interest to hold the meeting or a part of the meeting in private for the purpose of considering any matter, the board may by resolution exclude any person from the meeting”). It’s difficult to understand how the public’s best interest is served by discussing a media scan or student fees in private.