New Westminster trustees decide policy revisions need more work

The New Westminster school board has decided to postpone a decision on policy changes that a former board member said could “handcuff” trustees.

Last week, the board’s operations committee proposed revisions to policy number 7, which covers board operations.

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Under the proposed changes, trustees would not be allowed to submit motions unless communication had taken place with the superintendent, the proper formatting was used and the information included in the motion and accompanying backgrounder was accurate.

The changes would also forbid trustees from sharing agenda items, including individual submissions, with the public before the agenda was finalized and the items had been deemed either in-camera or public.

The revisions would also add a clause about “in-service meetings,” informal meetings between trustees and the superintendent.

“On the surface of it, it seems reasonable, but when I think about it in terms of practical application, I think it could prove very problematic for this board. I see contradictions in that they’re stipulating do this, do that, do the other before getting your motion on the agenda. How does that jive with getting a motion on to the floor?” former trustee Lisa Graham asked trustees at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

“The concern is that I don’t want your board to handcuff yourselves in terms of doing business efficiently and effectively.”

But BCSTA president Gordon Swan doesn’t see the proposed changes that way.

“This proposed policy revision, which boards are entitled to make under the School Act, appears to be focused on creating motions that are properly researched, not about limiting speech. Motions that are not properly crafted and researched can have unintended and damaging consequences,” he said in an emailed statement to the Record.

Trustees, meanwhile, did not respond to Graham’s comments, but, when it came time to approve the revisions, trustee Danielle Connelly voiced concerns about the in-service clause and its lack of parameters around exactly what could be on the agenda at these types of closed meetings.

“I just think that it opens up the door to a lot of misinterpretation of what could be discussed in these in-formal settings,” Connelly said.

Trustees agreed there were some parts of the proposed revisions that still needed work, and so trustee Maya Russell proposed they send it back to the operations policy committee for further review and discussion. Her motion was supported by the other trustees.

The proposed policy changes will be revisited in April.

PROPOSED REVISIONS

  • Adjourning meetings by 10 p.m. unless two-thirds of trustees vote to extend it to 10:30 p.m. The meetings could be extended beyond 11 p.m. but all trustees would have to be in favour;
  • Teleconference and video conferencing is not permitted, unless approved by the board;
  • Trustee in-service sessions to be held as needed, with agendas and dates to be set by the superintendent in consultation with the board. The purpose of these meetings is to receive information in an informal setting and not for decision-making;
  • Items for the agenda must be submitted to the superintendent or designate by the Monday of the week before the date of the meeting;
  • Items will be considered for inclusion on the agenda so long as an initial communication with the superintendent or designate has taken place and a backgrounder is included in standard board format. Backgrounders will be subject to copy edit for clarity and accuracy as necessary;
  • If it’s determined the item has not been properly prepared (ie: information is not correct, not accurate, not provided in backgrounder format), the chair will provide their decision and rationale to the trustee by the Tuesday of the week before the meeting. If the trustee disagrees with the decision, they can request it be included on the agenda by resolution at the call of the meeting;
  • Agenda items, including individual trustee submissions, are not to be shared with the public before the agenda is finalized and items have been determined to be “in-camera” or “regular open”.

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