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Written question period raises Langley Teachers Association's suspicions

The Langley School Board released their Board Action Plan today in response to the auditor general’s report, pledging to work hard at getting along, monitoring their finances, and planning long-term for the future. But the Langley Teachers Association says the board is already displaying bad governance with its “anti-social” behaviour towards the public and partner organizations during question period.

“They insisted that all questions had to be given in writing to the Assistant Superintendent Charlie Etchell and then he would read them aloud for people,” Gail Chaddock-Costello, first vice-president of the Langley Teachers Association (LTA), told The Tyee. “We weren’t informed of this until two minutes before question period, and people were quite annoyed, to put it politely, that they were not given the courtesy to be able to speak for themselves as adults at a public meeting with an elected board.”

Chaddock-Costello says not all the questions are read, and when the LTA asked for their written questions to be returned to them, they received an email with their questions instead.

“We wanted our actual forms back, and the fact that they keep them makes us feel like they’re actually compiling a dossier of people who dare to come forward and ask questions,” she says.

The LTA wrote a letter to Trustee Stacey Cody, who acted as board chair at the last meeting on October 12 in place of former chair Joan Bech, who resigned last month, asking why question period has changed. They have yet to receive a response, but Cody says she received the letter and a response is in the mail.

“We have the acting board chairs for the four months until the by-election takes place, and so until that we wanted to make sure that everything could run as smoothly as possible during public board meetings,” Cody told The Tyee.

“There’s a lot of people in the public who even after years of going (to board meetings) still have a hard time understanding that question period is just that, question period, it’s not an opportunity to get up and give a delegation. And it’s never ever to talk about personnel, and also not to direct questions to individual trustees.”

Cody says the new rules are on the website, on the back of every meeting agenda, and announced before question period begins. In addition, question period will return to normal once a new chair is elected in four months.

She doesn’t know what happens to the written questions after the meeting, but Cody says writing them down is no different than speaking in public because she has always recorded the name and question of whoever gets up to speak.

The LTA is less than enthused about the rest of the pledges the board has made in their Board Action Plan, which include taking in-services and workshops on best governance practices, monitoring the actions of the audit committee, conducting an annual review of the superintendent, and beginning a long-term planning process.

However, Chaddock-Costello feels better about the finances now that the attorney general’s office has signed on as their auditor for the next three to five years.

“With the audit committee in place as it’s structured and functioning properly, and with an annual review of the superintendent, if it’s done objectively I think it will go a long way to trying to prevent any further increase in debt,” she told The Tyee.

“When we get the Statement of Financial Information that must be completed by the end of December in this calendar year, we should see at that point in time if we’re spending within our limits, then we’ll be able to say that some of the efforts we’re making are bearing fruit.”

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