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Victoria school district one of two that prevent public from asking questions at meetings

Nov 14 2012

A survey of 21 school districts has found that only Greater Victoria and Kamloops-Thompson prevent the public from asking questions during regular board meetings.

Greater Victoria district staff surveyed urban and neighboring districts, as well as those of similar size, to see how trustees in other jurisdictions interact with the public.

The report found that 19 of the 21 districts have a question period as part of the agenda at regular board meetings. The sessions are limited by length, content or the number of questions permitted per person. In some cases, the question period takes place after the regular meeting adjourns.

The report notes that Greater Victoria, despite having no Q&A session at regular board meetings, offers other opportunities for the public to ask question of trustees.

Greater Victoria is one of only two districts in the survey that allow parent groups and unions to hold non-voting seats at the board table and take part in debates, the report says.

The district also gives the public a chance to ask questions during standing committee meetings - a practice that only six of the 20 other districts permit, the report says. "Compared with all other school districts surveyed, the Greater Victoria School District offers more opportunity for the public and stakeholders to engage with trustees in an open dialogue," the report says.

The Saanich school district appears to be the most transparent of the 21 districts in the survey. It offers the public an opportunity to ask questions at both board and committee meetings in that district, and also permits parents and unions to sit at the table during regular board meetings, according to the report.

The Greater Victoria school board ordered the review in September when a majority of trustees defeated a motion by Edith Loring-Kuhanga to add question-and-answer sessions to the beginning and end of every meeting. Instead, the board directed senior management to review board practices and, if necessary, recommend any improvements.

The report was slated to go before the education committee for discussion Tuesday night.

Board chairwoman Peg Orcherton said the report shows the district is doing an "outstanding job" of providing opportunities for the public to engage with trustees. But she said it also provides a starting point for discussions about whether further improvements are needed.

"I don't think it's something that's going to be dealt with all in one meeting because it could change the way we do our business," she said.