School board must allow public Q&A

Kamloops Daily News
November 16, 2012 01:00 AM

The school district was rather taken aback this week by the notion it could be more transparent by allowing a public Q&A session during regular board meetings.

A study commissioned by the Greater Victoria School District revealed that the Kamloops-Thompson School District was one of only two out of 21 districts in B.C. that does not allow the public to show up at meetings and lob impromptu questions at elected officials.

Both Supt. Terry Sullivan and board chair Denise Harper feel that letting people apply to speak before the board as a delegation offers the public a meaningful enough opportunity to grill trustees. But a lot of people aren't that organized. If they learn about something in short order, they'd likely appreciate the chance to ask their question or express their opinion sooner rather than later.

Having to connect ahead of time and get on the list as a formal delegation removes the spontaneity and timeliness an informal Q&A period could offer. The board only meets every two weeks, after all, which already limits some immediacy.

As it stands now, only the organized or those with a burning enough issue to pursue becoming a delegation manage to bend the ear of the school board. It's not that way in 19 other B.C. school districts.

Nor with Kamloops City council, which offers a public Q&A session at the start of the meeting and at the end. The mayor keeps speakers from going on too long, expeditiously trying to refer them to staff for further assistance where possible.

The school district officials suggested they do hold public meetings on important issues such as reconfiguration.
But even with those meetings, the district required people to sign up to be on a list to speak.

To be fair, the union noted a former local president was prone to shouting and banging on tables when meetings were more open to direct public input in past. We agree that kind of behaviour is unacceptable and should not be condoned.

But giving the public the opportunity to show up and question those they elected is an important part of a dialogue between those who hold the power and those who don't. Such openness also demonstrates a deeper accountability to the public from those officials.

We think it's time for the district to reconsider offering a public Q&A session at their meetings.

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