Bill 105 has yet to level the political playing field for parent commissioners

By: 
Matthew McCully
Staff Writer

“I had 19 elections in eight years to be a parent commissioner,” said Paul Laberge, chair of the Eastern Townships School Board (ETSB) Central Parents’ Committee, during Wednesday’s meeting.
“So who has to work to get this spot?”
Pointing to a major disconnect at the school board level, Laberge alleged that despite the adoption of Bill 105, now in effect, which gives more power to parent commissioners, they still find it a challenge to see their priorities reflected in the budget, their concerns addressed in policy and have their voices carry the same weight as other elected commissioners.
The Record was invited by Parent Commissioner Ken Waterhouse and CPC chair Laberge to attend the last meeting before summer break, which included a review of concerns raised throughout the year, many of which remained unaddressed.
The meetings are normally closed to the public.
The Tell Them From Me survey, a point of contention between the board and the CPC since March of 2016, has served as a catalyst for parent commissioners to assert their newly acquired rights, to no avail, according to Waterhouse.
At the March 28 council of commissioners meeting, Waterhouse proposed a resolution drafted by the CPC to suspend the survey for this school year to give the board an opportunity to evaluate all aspects of the survey and address parent concerns.
After discussion among the commissioners, the resolution was amended to suspend Tell Them From Me until after a May 3 meeting, scheduled to address those concerns.
Representatives from The Learning Bar, the company that sold the survey to the ETSB, attended the meeting, intending to shed light on the benefits of Tell Them From Me.
“They tried to sell it to us,” Waterhouse said.
According to Laberge, the Learning Bar representatives realized quickly they were wasting their time at the May 3 meeting.
“I think we all understand the survey. We know the benefits,” Laberge said, explaining that the issue is with the board and how the survey is managed and administered.
Following up on the issue, Waterhouse told the CPC that at the recent council of commissioners executive meeting (the in camera session held before the public meeting), he brought another resolution to the board asking that the suspension of the survey, by then expired, be extended, and that a clear policy regarding surveys be established.
The resolution was rejected as written and met with contempt, according to Waterhouse.
It’s not up to the CPC to demand these types of things, was the response Waterhouse said he received.
“We took a loss,” Waterhouse said, on what was proposed in the resolution, explaining that an amended version was eventually accepted.
Waterhouse added that he was refused ‘permission’ to read the original resolution in full during the public meeting, wanting it on record in the minutes.
That was one of three times, Waterhouse said, where he was cautioned by the board not to bring up an issue in the public meeting that other members felt had been ‘dealt with’ in the executive.
The CPC members then had a candid discussion about school budgets, which require governing board approval.
Some members claimed they were asked to approve envelopes of funding without comparisons from previous years and without knowing where additional de-centralized grants were going.
One member pointed out that the two most important tasks a governing board has are the adoption of the budget and the educational project.
“The board spends a lot of time and energy,” he said, “when they finally bring it to us, it’s the day of-here it is, please adopt it.”
Other members agreed they felt rushed to adopt budgets.
A common refrain when the figures are questioned, according to Laberge is, “Oh, you just don’t understand.”
“I think it’s presented in a confusing fashion so that we are confused and we won’t ask questions,” another member said.
By a show of hands, only five of the close to 20 CPC members in attendance said they clearly understood the budgets their schools had adopted.
The CPC members agreed they would like to see a standardized model for school budgets, including a tally sheet showing the expenditures from previous years for comparison.
Laberge then delivered his year-end report.
In short, Laberge explained that the issues raised by the CPC in the 2015-2016 school year were identical to the 2016-2017 school year.
“We’re just repeating ourselves,” Laberge said.
Speaking as a parent commissioner, he said he felt criticized when making suggestions, excluded from democratic participation, and offered no feedback after raising concerns with the board.
What Laberge said he would like to see is positive collaboration, timely feedback, a clear way of communicating issues between the board and parents.
Waterhouse chimed in, going so far as to add no name calling to the list.
“We won’t stop volunteering, communicating the only way we can, suggesting improvements,” Laberge concluded, adding that he would continue working for the best possible life experience for all ETSB students.
While Laberge insisted his report would be delivered to the board coming from him as a parent commissioner, other members agreed with what Laberge said in the report and said it was an accurate reflection of the views of the CPC as a whole.
“We’re not giving up,” Waterhouse went on. “The three of us (referring to Laberge, himself and parent commissioner Mary Gilman), we want to see change.”

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