This column was originally published in the Kamloops News on March 1, 1978:
THIS WEEK WAS THE FIRST in which local news media received in advance the background material for Kamloops School Board meetings. Previously, the media received copies of the agenda the Friday before the Monday meeting, but copies of correspondence, studies and reports were held back until the meeting itself.
That put the media at a disadvantage. While the board members knew exactly what they were talking about (most of the time, anyway), reporters had to madly scan the batch of documentation provided at meeting times to try to figure out what was going on.
A request to get the stuff in advance was relatively readily complied with by the majority of the board members at its last meeting.
That’s an improvement, but it may be insignificant in the face of what seems to be a refusal on the part of the board to do public business in public.
The Kamloops board has always had a paranoia about telling the public what is going on. The trustees fear that the public will not understand the reasoning behind its decisions, and blame the board unjustly for incompetence.
And, the board is also plain sloppy and negligent in dealing with issues that should be done in public but aren’t. Many decisions are made in camera which never see the light of day in the public sessions. Some are big issues, others small. But the issue of public disclosure of decision-making — and the debate behind the decisions — is the same no matter how important or how small the question.
The minutes of the in-camera meeting of Feb. 6 amply demonstrate the board’s failure to live up to its own policy on public information (a policy adopted almost two years ago on the advice of an ad hoc committee consisting of yours truly and then-trustee Lyle Anderson].
Only those matters which it is essential to keep secret, such as personnel and land negotiations, are supposed to be dealt with in camera.
Here are a few examples of matters the board felt it essential to keep secret from the ignorant and misunderstanding ears of the public:
- Trustee Kerr advised that at Policy Committee meeting on Monday, Feb. 13, the policy manual will be completely reviewed with each policy being referred to the appropriate people for study.
- Trustee Mercer advised a meeting to be held Tuesday, Feb. 7, to discuss the budget and issues arising from previous meeting.
- Trustee Merce authorized by Board to meet with Royal Inland Hospital to discuss common interest re: solar energy.
- Trustee Mercer advised a film was being prepared by the College concerning drinking-driving and suggested it may be suitable for use in our schools.
- Chairman Kirk reported on meeting with Mr. McLeod in Victoria last week and suggested that the Ministry be contacted with a view to receiving an indication as to length of time Mr. McLeod will be required by the Minister.
- Chairman Kirk requested to set up a meeting with Dr. McGeer, R. Mair and the Board of School Trustees in conjunction with their attendance at the Westsyde Pool opening.
- L. Kuehn, President KDTA attended meeting and presented concerns on behalf of the members regarding budget and communication with the School Board.
- Tedder advised that Mr. Morse will be making an application for a grant to hire student workers to undertake a follow-up study of students graduating from Kamloops Sr. Secondary from 1930-1970.
Pretty volatile stuff, what? Those items were taken verbatim from the in-camera minutes brought forward for ratification in public.
They and other similar items take up three legal-size pages of minutes. There are two paragraphs dealing with personnel and site acquisition matters which legitimately should have been dealt with in camera.
In addition, there were probably several items deleted from the minutes that the public will never know about.
One other interesting paragraph, in light of what we’re discussing, states this (from those same meeting’s minutes: “Trustee Kerr introduced news letters from BCSTA concerning legality of trustees disclosing to the public school board business conducted in in camera meetings, and proposal to draw up guidelines for selecting District Superintendents.”
However, the concern was not with the amount of information being given to the public, but with “leaks” from in camera meetings.
If you’ve never been to a school board meeting, it will be interesting to you to know that the public meetings of the board last only about an hour each Monday.
But it may be a revelation to know that the board meets in secret for about three to five hours each Monday. One can get an indication from that along as to how open and honest the Kamloops School Board is being with the public that elected it, and which provides its $37-million budget.
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Elsewhere in academia, the phenomenon known as the annual February Flap is underway at Cariboo College.
The faculty is making yet another attempt to purge the administration of alleged incompetence, this time via a non-confidence vote in principal Jack Harrison.
Once in a while the faculty gets to feeling its oats and does something like that. In the past, the faculty has demanded, and received, a total evaluation study of the administration. It has come up with briefs and reports on the administration until, it seems, the cows come home.
Maybe, in light of the stamina of the faculty in sniping at the administration, it’s difficult to assume there is nothing wrong with the way the college is being run.
But, without taking sides, it’s not tough to know what the college council is going to do now that the ball is in its court.
The council, at its next get-together, will draft up a press release stating that the college has experienced unprecedented growth recently, that the recent administrative re-alignment should meet any faculty concerns, that there is no indication of serious mismanagement, and that the council has full confidence in the principal.
Period. And that will be it until next February.
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The Kamloops School Board is still working some kinks out of its self-imposed policy of no junk food being available at its own meetings.
At the last meeting it discovered that somebody had sneaked chocolate chips into the supposedly junk-free snacks. This week, fruit drinks were provided. Neither is classed as nutritionally “acceptable.”
At this week’s meeting, the board dealt with a complaint from Trustee Henry Grube about a Canada Council grant given for a poem entitled A Warm Place to Sh-t (using a dash instead of an “i” is the newspaper industry’s way of protecting public morals; in case you didn’t know, sh-t is a four-letter word for poo).
“Some of this nutritious food tastes about as good as the stuff in that poem,” one top administrator was heard to mutter as he bit into a nut-based culinary delight after the meeting.