Board backs ‘virtual’ attendance at meetings

Chilliwack board of education is going electronic.

Chilliwack board of education is going electronic.

School trustees narrowly passed a policy at last Tuesday’s board meeting that would allow them to participate in meetings by telephone or via Internet video conferencing applications such as Skype and Elluminate Live.

The policy was brought forward as a way for all trustees to participate in meetings even if they’re not able to physically attend the meeting.

Some trustees, however, were concerned the policy would have negative connotations.

“A policy like this could make it very easy to stay home,” said trustee Martha Wiens.

“I don’t think any of us want to give the impression that this is an option we can use as we please,” added trustee Heather Maahs, who suggested the policy state the option was to be used in extenuating circumstances only. “We need to send a message that we can’t just do this whenever.”

But trustee John Henry Harter took offense to implications that participating in meetings electronically, meant trustees weren’t 100 per cent committed to the job at hand.

“More and more workers in a number of sectors telecommute and I don’t think they take their job less seriously than those who regularly commute,” said Harter.

“If we can’t physically be here, is it better that we don’t participate? There are 101 reasons why a trustee is not able to attend a meeting. If we defect this [motion] are we suggesting we’d rather the trustee not show up?

“In no way should this imply that we don’t want to be at meetings,” said Harter. “We actually want to participate in meetings even when we can’t physically be there.”

Harter also argued on behalf of the board becoming more technologically advanced.

“One of the goals in our mission statement is to keep up with technology so that we’re not all racing to keep up, but to stay ahead of the curve,” he said.

Added trustee Louise Piper, “I think this is a step in the right direction.”

Trustees Wiens, Maahs and Silvia Dyck voted against the policy.

kbartel@theprogress.com