Diary of a Mad Trustee Open Board Meeting November 17th 2010

Our Trustee Eden


                                                Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice

                                          Resist the Beginning…Consider the End

 This is the next in a series of entirely unauthorised reports from this trustee on board meetings. If this email has made its way into your computer and you are dismayed please accept my apologies and hit the delete key, which is of course what the delete key is for – that and the little known death ray function when the caps lock is activated.(Only for workplace deployment). I undertake to comment publicly on public matters but of course, this is not in any way intended to reflect the views of the school board. Any similarity to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

Sometimes we have what can only be the result of a dimensional shift in the district and the board meetings manifest this in spades. While a substantial number of our employees and families are seriously stressed about the state of things, the children of greater gods (with apologies) seem to be living in a different universe. Oddly enough, the content of our delegations this night should have laid bare some of these contradictions but both presenters left somewhat bewildered and overlooked.

It is unusual to have 2 delegations – we had the lovely Prez from the teachers’ union give us rather more detail about the actual landscape of classrooms then district reports provide (contact me if you would like the full presentation). Then we were treated to a presentation from a dedicated public servant from our local government who wishes to encourage us all to take our obligations concerning preparedness for emergencies more seriously.

Both might as well have stayed home I guess. No one wants to know what our class rooms are really like and if they find out they want to be in a position to attribute the problems to something we can’t be held responsible for – which nowadays bizarrely is ‘declining enrollment’ –  the all purpose excuse for unrelenting corrosion of conditions for the kids who are actually still in our classes.

We have been told repeatedly no matter what we hear from teachers or support staff, no matter what parents say or how kids are impacted – we can share the panglossian vision of something for nothing. After all who are you gonna believe – the mouth pieces for the ministry or your lyin’ eyes. There are always a few well scrubbed examples of excellence and prosperity to hypnotically drive the image of deterioration and urgency from our minds. Everything else is just ‘bad news’ and only villains and troublemakers cultivate ‘bad news’.

 As to our emergency plan – like everything else, it rides heavily on the resolve and resources individual families at our schools are able to bring to the problem – some schools will have comfort kits, supplies and equipment and some will not. Apparently, PACs are responsible for the well being of the school population if a serious incident or natural disaster occurs. There is a motion (getting a bit grey around the muzzle in its dotage really) seeking analysis of our school emergency preparedness with the intention of getting those needs funded by the ministry so we all have the same level of protection in case there is a quake or a flood or an event horizon. We all deserve the same safeguards whether we can provide it for ourselves or not. That is supposed to be one of the few up sides to living now as opposed to living in the naked heathen past . (especially the naked part).

It is all the fault of the ministry of course – they are masters of deceit and denial. However, they have their vision and never seem to falter in that. What we need to contemplate is “how do the supporters of top quality public education for everyone further their vision and do it with the same tenacity?”

 A tiny part of the meeting was devoted to a very speedy and unenthusiastic discussion regarding the manner in which we choose our chair and vice chair.

As usual around this time of year – I am really starting to get into a rut but that’s not for here – I bring an item or a motion which seeks to change how we now acquire our board executive.

I have sat in the board room for many years – first as a happy go lucky visitor to the gallery – free to roam and unencumbered by the worrying prospect of being  a trustee. No one I have watched has ever done a particularly good job of chairing and frankly after a few months they all look as though they need -as the song says -‘a box of chocolates and a long stem rose’ – it really seems to grind people up and people let it happen because everyone thinks they will be different. Therefore, here are few thoughts all of which have been run up the flagpole more than once – not nearly enough people salute them but I still like the whole idea anyway.

Whenever I think about the virtues of a good chair for an elected community governing body like the Board of Education I celebrate the following:

  • Strong proponent of high quality Public Education for all
  • Knowledge of and Respect for the democratic principles embodied in parliamentary procedure
  • Powerful defender of the rights and role of elected representatives

 Simple really – you would think it would be a dawdle. After all, our conduct as chair must affirm the position of chair as one of service not authority. We are really only up there to run the meetings and beak off occasionally on behalf of the board. However, this role does embody the leadership the whole board offers to the district regarding the functions of our schools.

I believe the manner in which we select our chairs does not allow for the free involvement of all those our communities have sent forward to govern public education at the local level. After all – some of the poor sods who are sidelined as minority trustees are in fact representatives of big chunks of our communities – does this mean no one from those realms ever gets to see their trustees take up the reins and serve as chair?

In order to improve inclusion of all trustees as well as those who elect them I believe rather than establish chair and vice chair as we do now, we should modify our approach and cycle every trustee (unless they absolutely decline to take up their position) through both positions for a shorter period of time so all have their opportunity. I know – the devil might be in the detail but we could at least grant this idea has merit before we start coming up with half assed reasons it isn’t practical – the employees and families in our district do many impossible things and all before 9 am- with a bit of goodwill this is no big deal.

Apart from recognising the diverse sections of the communities from which we all hail , there are other benefits as well; it would build the capacity of each trustee to grasp the mechanics of agenda preparation as well as other responsibilities the chair must take up. We would all become more sensitive to the difficulties these duties entail.

Another significant advantage in my opinion – this approach will enshrine the relationship between the chairs and their colleagues instead of distancing them from the other trustees in favour of closer ties to senior management. Right now, the board executive is much more likely to cling to the relationships they have with unelected administrators– a bit of Stockholm Syndrome really. The more time you spend with particular people, the more likely you will transfer all or most of your empathy to them especially if they manifest a distinct air of assumed importance. I want my chair to treat the trustees like their gaggle of chicks – and protect them and their rights as a priority. God help the administrator who chooses to flay some trustee alive for visiting a school or participating in the democratic system or enjoying a community affiliation – the board chair should be ever vigilant in defending her fellow trustees and upholding their positions on behalf of the folks who put them there.

While each trustee would be expected to acknowledge in their practice the basic parliamentary forms as well as the policies and procedures established in our district– it would be up to each individual how they engaged with the position. Much would be learned, much would be understood and we would each extend our skills and experience. Surely, this alone would be reason enough. Except for the first person, all the rest would have been vice chair prior to being chair, which would allow a period of fine-tuning.

While rotating chairs are evidently most common in university faculties and research committees as well as various UN organisational structures, the School Act does not explicitly prohibit this format ( School Act of BC- Meetings and Chair /section 67 1-5). Now- the School Act commands we must have a chair and in fact the chair should be elected whatever that may mean but I have yet to see a properly rolled out election of a chair. There is behind the scenes chit chat and preliminary calibrations – no one comes publicly before us and the community to tell us how they will behave as chair or vice chair so we can ponder and choose from a few good men or women. There is a coy nomination; everyone looks side to side and then we acclaim the person who has made the rounds before the meeting and satisfied the numbers game outside the board room. Some election – if this passes muster as far as the School Act is concerned just about any manner of selection would.

I see this as a very open and lively way to acknowledge the widely diverse characteristics which bring nine people to the board table. I believe it would prove to be an engaging process for our partners, community and board members.

Only a minority of trustees has any interest in this transformative notion. It will have to wait – possibly forever. Next meeting we will witness another episode of “Chair… Moi?”

I would not waste any money on popcorn…

I am so psyched I can hardly sleep.

 Democracy is the only system that persists in asking the powers that be whether they are the powers that ought to be.

                                                                                          -Sydney J. Harris

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