February 24, 2023 – If a recent School District 69 Board meeting is any indication, the Board seems to be intentionally trying to prevent, not encourage, public engagement. The tip-off was an innocuous enough topic on the Board’s January 24, 2023 Meeting Agenda, “In-person / Zoom Recording of Board Meetings.”
The pandemic came with an unintended silver lining — public engagement and transparency in local government actually improved and are now, in most cases, the new norm.
In-person meetings of the SD 69 Board, Qualicum Beach Town Council, Regional District of Nanaimo Board, and their Committees ceased, in compliance with Ministerial Orders. Zoom and YouTube became the love-hate work horses of the pandemic.
Thanks to long-established technology like WebEx and Skype, and more recent meeting enablers like FaceTime, Zoom and Teams, by mid-2020 not only were Boards and Councils and Committees meeting electronically, but the public was also invited to attend live, at least as observers, often as delegations, as well as having after-the-fact access to past meeting recordings available online.
The only glaring exception, swimming vigorously against the current, are the elected Trustees and non-elected Superintendent of School District 69 (Qualicum), as evidenced by the discussion at the January 24th Board meeting.
Our district School Board of five elected trustees has regular monthly Board meetings open to the public, except for those matters that warrant in camera discussion.
The Board also meets frequently as a Committee of the Whole (COW). This will all sound familiar to followers of QB’s Town Council. Our School Board goes a step further in its use of COWs. They actually have three standing COWS, one each for Education, Finance & Operations, and Policy, where important matters are deliberated.
BUT, unlike the Town which retains and archives audiovisual recordings of ALL Council meetings (including when the Council meets as a COW), the School District does not record its Committee of the Whole meetings for public access.
Compounding the problem of public access to the deliberations of elected Trustees, SD 69’s Education COW typically meets monthly, and has been doing so via Zoom for two years, but… it meets weekdays, in the mid-afternoon.
Yes, mid-afternoon, when working parents cannot attend in person or on Zoom, and when many stay-at-home parents are in transit picking up their children after school.
SD69 Board leans on minimum legislated requirements for public communications, opts to destroy records
At the Board meeting on January 24, 2023, Trustees Eve Flynn (Board Chair) and Elaine Young, leaning on an archaic interpretation of Robert’s Rules, suggested they are duty bound to destroy all records related to a meeting except the written minutes, once adopted, usually at the subsequent Board meeting.
Here’s the verbatim text from s.72 of BC’s School Act: “The minutes of the proceedings of all meetings of the board must be: (a) legibly recorded in a minute book; (b) certified as correct by the secretary treasurer or other employee designated by the board under section 69 (4); and, (c) signed by the chair or other member presiding at the meeting or at the next meeting at which the minutes are adopted.”
That’s right — written in a book. A process obviously prescribed last century before the invention of computers and video recorders.
That may be the statutory minimum, but that is not necessarily what the public needs, can make effective use of, or expects from its elected Board and their staff. One wants to shout, “It’s 2023!”
The School District’s website currently reflects this minimalist opacity: “Recordings of the Public Board Meetings held via Zoom will be available until approval of the minutes.”
However, the Board is contradicted by their own YouTube channel where, as of February 23rd, recordings of Board meetings for the past year are available.
Since the Board has not kept pace with other public bodies and indexed their meeting video segments, we need to tell you that the discussions on retention of archived videos start at the 00:48:53 mark of the January 24, 2023 recording — assuming it is still accessible to the public when you read this article.
Trustees Flynn and Young are clearly out of step with elected trustees in other School Districts where transparency remains alive and well.
Our next-door neighbours in SD 68 Nanaimo Ladysmith record, and retain for public viewing, all Board and Committee meetings which, for convenience, are usually scheduled to start at 6:00 pm – not mid-afternoon like SD 69.
Julie Austin was the only Trustee at the meeting who strongly supports retaining publicly accessible recordings of the Committee of the Whole meetings, especially the Education COW which she currently chairs.
“It is really important to record our Education COW [meetings], probably our Finance and Operations too,” stated Austin. “A big bulk of the Education conversation happens at that COW meeting. It seems a shame not to record that one. There’s a lot on information that people want to review.”
Trustee Barry Kurland suggested the Board needed to first consult with the District Parent Advisory Council. DPAC, one of a handful of guests invited to each Board Meeting, are a non-elected group of people with no accountability to the public. Trustee Kurland’s puzzling interjection appeared to undercut the Board’s leadership responsibility and public accountability.
Where does Superintendent Peter Jory stand?
Hands down, the jaw-dropping comment of the hour went to School Board Superintendent Peter Jory whose basket of excuses for his Board’s current woeful opacity included legal advice he had received in a previous job.
Regarding retention and archiving of Board meeting recordings, apparently Jory’s previous employer’s lawyer had suggested: “No good can come from that.”
Well, duh. What else would a lawyer say when his or her obligatory duty is to help Jory and his previous school board protect their interests.
Avoiding accountability and suppressing transparency erodes public confidence
This is not a good look for School District 69.
The Board’s discussion on this topic is essential viewing for any stakeholders in the managing and delivery of local public education.
As property owners we pay for these services. As parents, as students, as staff, as prospective employers, and as taxpayers, we all have a stake in ensuring strong School District governance, anchored by competence, accountability, and, above all, transparency.
We welcome your comments, particularly from parents of students in School District 69.
We will be watching for further developments, particularly at the School Board’s next meeting on February 28, 2023.