News / Calgary

Accusations fly during impromptu Calgary Board of Education trustee call to Metro reporter

EDITOR'S NOTE:

- CBE trustee Joy Bowen-Eyre repeatedly referred to Metro reporter Jeremy Nolais acting as the "eighth trustee," but declined to specify what she meant despite being asked for clarification previously. A call placed to Bowen-Eyre to help clarify the matter Wednesday was also not returned.

------------------

Critics were quick to suggest Wednesday that the transcript of an impromptu call between six Calgary public-school trustees and Metro suggests the board is attempting to shut both the public and media out of board business.

The call Tuesday, placed by Calgary Board of Education trustee Trina Hurdman at the request of a fellow member, came in response to an article published the day prior about trustees denying a push by representative Amber Stewart to publish the organization's 2015-18 capital plan two weeks early.

Four trustees claimed to have ruled Stewart's motion out of order as opposed to voting it down.

The conversation spanned over 20 minutes  — allegations swirled of trustees using the media to get their way and attempts made to undermine the board's effort to appear as a "united voice."

LISTEN TO THE FULL AUDIO OF THE CALL

To read a transcript of the entire conversation click here

Two representatives, Joy Bowen-Eyre and Lynn Ferguson, refused to identify themselves when asked.

Larry Leach, chair of the Association for Responsive Trusteeship in Calgary Schools, reviewed a full copy of the conference-call transcript Wednesday. He said Hehr's "very troubling" remarks left him with the impression she believes the media should only report on education matters when given the all clear by elected representatives.

"Instead of the trustees doing the public's work and being public with what they're doing, they're trying to tell a reporter how to do his job," he said. "That's troubling because, in a democracy, the press has an extremely important role to play. In many cases, the citizens of Calgary's only connection to the Calgary Board of Education is through the press."

Hehr took issue with the actions of Stewart, who admitted to speaking with Metro about the meeting's public rulings on whether or not her motion was in order.

Hehr also requested that Metro reveal other sources referenced in the article.

"Our — my — question is in and around the material that's received from a member of a board who is brand new, who is trying to figure out policy, and who is working from policy, and who could easily go down the path of using the press in this manner," she said of Stewart. "I just don't feel that that's in the best interest of student learning right now in the Calgary Board of Education."

She added, "we literally know nothing about this having gone to the press, nothing, and you are reporting on behalf of the Calgary Board of Education."

Board chair Sheila Taylor was the only member of the trustee board not to take part in the conference call. But she did provide an email confirming to her fellow trustees Monday she'd been interviewed by Metro for the capital-plan story.

Westgate mother Jan Nicholson also reviewed the conference-call transcript and said the trustees appear divided into two groups.

"At the end of that day, how effective can that be?" Nicholson said. "You basically have a governance model that sees individuals voted in who are repeatedly voting in the exact way every time — someone has to take notice that that isn't being effective."

Parents can't influence school wish list at this point: Trustee

A trustee also stated in Tuesday'a conference call that the time for parent feedback on the public board's school-infrastructure wish list has come and gone.

Because trustee Amber Stewart's motion to publish the CBE's 2015-18 capital plan early was ruled out of order it will be released March 17, the day before it's voted through. Last year's version was 144 pages.

Both trustees Judy Hehr and Pamela King made reference in the call to Stewart acting out of order by discussing the ruling with Metro. But Hehr later declared she "misspoke" repeatedly and ruled herself "out of order." King then went into details of her reasoning for voting to pull the capital-plan motion.

"It's not a huge timeline, but this particular point in the process is not the time for the feedback," she said. "This is the document as it is. Any feedback that we would get isn't going to influence the actual decision of the capital plan."

But Nicholson, one of many parents pushing for a middle school in Calgary's space-strapped West Springs community, said King's remarks gave her clear indication her group's efforts,  at the school board level at least, have been in vain.

"The point is there is no opportunity to influence it," she said. "We've tried through various letters and phone calls from the planning department up to the superintendent, asking questions about the model, providing feedback on the model, and we have received nothing . . . 24 hours (for feedback) is not a working partnership, that's the bottom line."

The capital-plan ranking can be amended by trustees with support of the majority of members.

More on Metronews.ca