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Burnaby school board looking to improve transparency by ditching 1978 bylaw

Local trustees say changes to the way the board does business will encourage more input from teachers, support staff, parents and other community members
gavel ruling shutterstock
The Burnaby school board is proposing major changes to its committee structure to make its work more transparent and encourage more input from partner groups. Photo by Shutterstock

The bylaw that dictates how the Burnaby school board conducts its business hasn't evolved much since disco was king 40 years ago – but that’s about to change.

The board is proposing sweeping changes to its 1978 procedural bylaw that would combine five of its current standing committees – buildings and grounds, community relations, education, policy, and youth and community services – into one “committee of the whole.”

That committee would then meet once a month and bring together representatives from all the school district’s partner groups, such as the district parent advisory council, the Burnaby Teachers’ Association, CUPE and others.

For decades, the board’s seven different standing committees have each met about once a month.

“It’s easier for some of our partner groups to come to one big meeting,” school board chair Jen Mezei told the NOW.

She said the proposed changes would make the board’s workings more transparent and encourage more collaborative decision-making.

COVID-19 has been one catalyst for the change, according to Mezei.

The board’s committees were suspended in March when the pandemic hit, and she said that has allowed the board to reflect on whether its committee structure still lined up with its values and strategic plan.

Trustee Larry Hayes, who has served on the board for 18 years, called the proposed changes “a real step forward.”

“It improves communication with our partners, with our parents, with our students, with the public. It really is a move in the right direction,” he said at a public school board meeting last Tuesday.

Trustee Bill Brassington noted the current structure can delay decisions for weeks on end when committee schedules don’t line up properly with the monthly board meeting.

He said the proposed changes also have the potential to make the board’s work more visible.

“I think every one of us has been in situations where people have said to us, ‘What do trustees do?’” he said. “And this allows people to see what we do, but, more importantly, it allows them to become directly involved.”

Mezei said the new committee of the whole would meet once a month for about two hours.

She said she’d like to see written reports distributed to participants before meetings, so the committee will be able to move through items more efficiently.

The board will be gathering input on the proposed changes until its next board meeting on Jan. 26, when trustees will put them to the vote.

The first meeting of the committee of the whole would be in February.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor