What is Chilliwack school board trying to hide?
That was the question repeatedly asked at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.
In a last ditch effort, before the board breaks for summer, trustee Heather Maahs presented a motion to reinstate past practice of making board agendas public at least 48 hours before a meeting.
Maahs, who has tried to present this motion at past meetings but has failed stated the board owes it to the public – “their employers” – to be transparent.
With no advance warning, the school district’s senior executive team, under the guidance of board chair Louise Piper, made the decision in April to stop distributing agendas the Friday before a public meeting, and instead post them online the day of the meetings.
A notion Maahs has been opposed to from the get-go.
“As a board we want to be engaging our community,” said Maahs. “I see no detriment at all,” in distributing the agendas in advance of meetings, “in fact, I think it might encourage more participation and engagement for the people.
But by not distributing the agendas well in advance, “we’re giving parents the impression that we have something to hide,” said Maahs.
However, the majority of her colleagues felt the district needs to conduct a more thorough conversation into the matter, and the motion was referred to the board policy committee with trustees Maahs, Silvia Dyck and Martha Wiens in opposition.
While trustee Barry Neufeld said he wasn’t interested in having the agendas out for public consumption a full weekend before a meeting “to be picked over,” Piper said there was “no intent” in trying to silence anybody.
Still, those in the gallery were not convinced.
“What are you people trying to hide,” grandparent Donald Costin accused. “Give the public the information, otherwise why should we be here? If you’re going to curtail information, how are we to have meaningful discourse at these meetings?
“This is gradually becoming a one-way communication and as a parent and grandparent that really bothers me.”
Gord Byers, president of the District Parents’ Advisory Council, told trustees they were not giving the community enough time to read through and digest the information in the agendas prior to the meetings.
Byers, who has a family and a full-time job, said if it was a choice between spending time with his children in the hours before he has to attend a meeting, or pouring over packages that are often more than 100 pages thick, he’s going to choose his family.
Parent Don Davis agreed.
“It’s a lot to digest in a very short time,” he said referring to Tuesday’s 156-page agenda.
“I’m trying to be invested in my children’s education. I’m trying to participate as best I can. But it’s become very difficult … with the tight time frame we’ve been given to read the agendas and to even absorb what’s being put through.”
Following the meeting, Maahs further expressed her displeasure at the ongoing issue.
“I don’t understand why the other trustees are hedging, because if we truly had nothing to hide, why isn’t the public getting the agendas at the same time we’re getting them?” she said. “This is not rocket science, it’s pretty simple, it’s something we actually owe our public to do.”