Tuesday’s school board meeting got so heated at times that a former board chair sitting in the audience couldn’t hide her dismay.
Silvia Dyck, a trustee for 19 years prior to last fall’s election, took to the podium and chided the current board for bringing their animosity into the public realm. She said that they need to get beyond their adversarial state, hash things out as a board at Committee of the Whole meetings, and be “more aspirational.”
The board spent almost two hours arguing over minor and major amendments to their own self-governance policies.
“May I suggest that policy governance is about building a team,” she said to the board. “It’s the seven of you that need to work on it, not in an adversarial role … you need to reach some sort of consensus. Consensus doesn’t mean you agree but you can live with it.”
Dyck was often the one corralling trustees and keeping order of meetings in her years on the board, including several years as board chair.
She was at the board meeting in the audience, with fellow former trustee Walt Krahn, to deliver a report from an ad-hoc committee on trustee remuneration earlier in the evening. The meeting was nearing the three and a half hour mark when she was able to speak during question period.
“We have a great school district, and we turned it over to you in great condition, please keep it that way,” she said in closing.
Dyck said after the meeting that she has only ever tuned into one meeting since the changeover of the board.
“I watched one when they first started and caught a few mistakes,” she said. “When you make a motion, you have to complete the motion. There were some errors, and when you get sloppy you run into trouble later.”
She said Tuesday night’s meeting was again full of errors. But even more appalling was the obvious tension, she said, and the lack of collective knowledge of policy governance writing.
“Like most dysfunctional boards, they are using policy to hit each other with,” she said. “Policy is not there for battles, or to fix the current dispute. There’s a lot of naivety there; they don’t understand policy governance.”
The board had six action items on their agenda, following with their plan to clean up the 200 policies which outline self-governance. Several amendments were introduced during the meeting that trustees did not have time to digest, and a few trustees argued that the changes were heavy handed. Those arguments were also at times combative and out of order.
In particular, the Code of Ethics was up for amendment, with a full page of new wording for punitive action if a trustee broke that code. There have been numerous instances of trustees breaking their code of ethics over the past year, but no action has been taken to censure any trustees.
The amendments were eventually passed, with Trustees Heather Maahs, Barry Neufeld and Darrell Furgason voting against it. They were particularly opposed to wording that included the Human Rights Code.
While Maahs said she was “trying to take the high road here” in regards to things said in the past, she often interrupted other trustees. When Trustee Jared Mumford lamented that “you don’t need a code of ethics until you need a code of ethics” she said out loud, “wow, wow.”
It’s that sort of discussion that should be happening behind closed doors, says Dyck.
“They were challenging things without really looking at what they were challenging,” she said. “Instead of listening to the commentary, they said ‘I’m not going to listen.’”
If they had spent the time together they could have come up with something that everyone could be content with, Dyck added. She said this was bound to happen with the different types of people who were elected this time around. But she also said it’s incumbent on the board now to mend fences and get back to work.
“They have to do the teamwork piece, then the governance piece,” she said. “They could really benefit from a governance workshop… They need group assistance.”
Dyck called the current board dysfunctional, and that in the past when the school board had similar issues they went through workshops and had outside input, and worked hard at coming back together as a united board.
“We turned over a school district in great shape, we had the right people in the right places, with all skill sets in good places,” she said. “The finances are good, things are good, student achievement is up. When you start to lose that, when staff is demoralized — and a dysfunctional board is demoralizing — it goes all the way down to the school level.”
She said she has hope that things can be fixed in time, but that the board seems to be going through the a common “forming storming and performing” process.
“We seem to be in the storm, and hopefully we get to the performing piece,” she said. “We have to have hope, our students desperately need it, education is so critical.”