Oberg fires CBE

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) is no more.

Learning Minister Lyle Oberg disbanded it August 19. George Cornish, a former chief commissioner of Calgary, has taken over the board's responsibilities as official trustee. A byelection will be held before the end of March.

"Education is a priority for the people of Calgary, and we need a board that can work together to address the issue in a professional manner. I have been monitoring the situation since I became minister, and last week the board chair said she felt there was little chance of moving the board to a functional level. I felt it was time to take action," Oberg said.

"This is not a step I take lightly, nor is it a reflection on the integrity of any individual board member. My duty is to ensure that children in the Calgary public system receive the best education possible."

The decision to disband the democratically elected body came in the wake of a series of events that led chair Teresa Woo-Paw to characterize the board as dysfunctional. Those events included a note-passing controversy, a "near confrontation" at a board meeting and alleged violations of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

"In isolation, none of the incidents that led to this decision would be grounds for appointing an official trustee. However, taken together, there is ample evidence that the board is simply not functioning at a satisfactory level. The board also shows no signs of being able to turn things around in the near future," Oberg said.

ATA President Larry Booi described the disbandment as an overreaction. "This is the most powerful action that one can take in the context of local democracy, and therefore, it must be reserved for situations where there is compelling evidence that the public interest is suffering serious damage," he said. "We have not seen evidence that the Calgary situation is anything worse than disharmony and bickering."

Booi said the well-publicized differences among CBE trustees are, in part, the result of chronic underfunding that was felt most severely in Calgary.

"Given adequate resources and support, this board might well have sorted out the situation," he said. "We can understand using this `last-resort' measure in cases of corruption or extreme mismanagement, but that has not been demonstrated to be the case of Calgary."

Booi pointed out that the government-appointed Calgary Board of Education Review Team concluded the CBE was not mismanaging resources.

"It would seem that the trustees' big mistake was in appearing childish," he said. "The punishment in this case simply does not fit the crime."

Kurt Moench, president of the Calgary Public Teachers Local, agreed. "Unfortunately, it appeared that many of the relationship issues between trustees over the past year were amplified by very public disagreements over program cuts and staff layoffs caused by the chronic underfunding of the CBE. If trustees hadn't been forced to make such difficult choices, they may have been able to put some of their personal issues aside. In the end, it has created a very regrettable situation for both individual trustees and the board as a whole. It is unfortunate that one of the oldest democratic institutions in the city, the public school board, has suffered a major setback. We're waiting to see further concrete evidence that such a drastic step was necessary."

Six official trustees have been appointed over the last 20 years-in Westlock School Division in 1979, in High Prairie School Division in 1981, in Northland School Division in 1981, in Twin River School Division in 1993 and at Global Academy Charter School in Calgary in 1998.