Showdown at the Hazzard County School Board

I recently had the joy of attending another meeting of the Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB).

In what I recognize from the Save Beaufort days, the HRSB kindly moved the motion 95% of the people here are here to see to the very end of the agenda, so that we have to sit through all the “orders of the day” motions. It seems a typical move from the staff and board here at the old HRSB.

We are here to stop the construction of a new school. That’s right. Stop construction.

A parent asked me if it was a good idea to bring their babies. I replied “Oh yes, we brought Emma as a baby and Rhett as a grade 1 to the last big HRSB Beaufort meeting… at that one they called the cops to come and arrest us!” The parents think and hope I am joking. I am not kidding… I sat then as I sat at this meeting, with laptop and a cell phone, and then I started calling all the media… “please come and cover this, the HRSB threatened to have us all charged! There are kids here!” When the police came, we left, peacefully.

As we, the concerned parents, get into this deeper and deeper, it has pretty shocking to realize that this massive board that administers, well, let me check the financial report – $350,604,300 dollars of your money – well, they don’t get reports from staff until the morning of the day before the Board meeting. That’s right! At $350 million the HRSB is the third largest arms length government agency or body after HRM and Capital District Health Authority, and this almost volunteer Board has all of 36 hours to read all the information that will inform their decisions.

And in fact, some times they don’t even get the report at all! Some don’t actually have a report out to the Board in advance of the meeting. The ability of the Board to ask the important questions under these kind of conditions is, of course, zero.

This an apparent considerable lack of understanding of Robert’s Rules by the Chair means that, well, I have seen prom committees that were better run.

So I am not sure what exactly should be done to fix the fundamental failure of Board governance of public education, but I have some ideas. This sure isn’t working!

The volunteer community oversight component of the Boards is important. A Board with a physical area bigger than PEI cannot count on Board members to actually know enough about the region to make meaningful decisions. As it is politically impossible to make being an elected school Board rep a full time, well paying job, that means the Board needs to be a lot smaller.

How big? Maybe a couple of school families? A couple of high schools each? Other options I have heard thrown around include have each family of schools elect a representative through the SACs to the Board, so CP Allen would have a rep. Or, have the HRSB be made a department of HRM. Or, make each school family its own Board, with the DOE more involved in some aspects of the administration.

The meeting goes on and on, its 8pm and no end in sight. Delay, and delay, it’s a classic small town tactics. Sometimes I swear to god like I feel like I am in Hazzard County.

I am actually impressed with the quality of the questions from some of the Board members. Unfortunately the good questions have almost with out exception come from Board members that we already know or strongly believe are going to support our goal. We do not have enough support to win.

Duringa break I go over and speak to Gary O’Hara. I ask, nicely but firmly, why the public part of the meeting was moved to the very bottom of the agenda. He got a little angry and said that there were several contentious issues coming and he did not want that debate to overshadow the good work of the staff. He said that no Board member complained.

I asked him if they could at least move the school delay motion to the top of the agenda so that the public could, you know, go home. He said smugly that the agenda was already voted on and passed… I looked at him and said “yes, but a 2/3 vote can change the agenda at any time, right?” He shrugs and walks away and walked away.

In the end we loose, but we knew we were going to loose going into the meeting. Nobody gets anything done in this Province without getting the Minister to do it. We are talking to her next week.