Limited funds trump transparency, trustee says
After learning that video-recording their own meetings would cost $13,020 a year, plus an initial equipment cost of $3,070, Rainbow District School Board trustees voted against the initiative.
The board's manager of information services, Rod MacLeod, explained that although meetings could be recorded by a board technician, they would have to be sent to a third-party vendor to have captions added.
They'd be required to do so under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act before posting the information on the board's website. Because of this requirement, it would take a week to get the information up on the web.
The matter came up after a motion by trustee Robert Kirwan, who had asked that all of the board's regular and special meetings be video-recorded and posted on the board's website within 24 hours.
After hearing about the requirement to add captions, he later amended his motion so that it asked that the information be posted within seven days. However, in the end, only Kirwan and trustee Larry Killens voted in favour of the motion.
The vote comes after several months of controversy surrounding the issue of the Rainbow board's meetings being video-recorded.
When Northern Life last updated the story in December, the board was roundly criticized by commenters on the website for being resistant to the idea of recording the meetings.
Two parents disgruntled about the closure of their child's school had been recording most meetings until they were banned from some school board property last fall, including board meeting venues.
Trustees then voted last fall in favour of a new rule, which states only members of the media and individuals who have permission from the director of education are allowed to video-record board meetings.
Kirwan said he was “absolutely astounded” that this level of service could be provided “for a mere $13,000,” adding that trustees should consider it “the cost of transparency.”
“I really hope you support this and not take a look at whether we should be spending $13,000 in this school or that school,” he said.
Dollars are so limited, and I have a great difficulty in my head rationalizing how this at all impacts on student success.
trustee, Rainbow District School Board
“Every year we come up with a surplus over and above what we've spent to add to our reserves and spend someplace else. We have $8 million in reserves.”
Killens, the only other trustee to support Kirwan's motion, said he's received “wheelbarrowloads of petitions” from parents upset about their children's schools closing.
He said the video-recording is needed so parents are well informed about what actually happens around the board table and there are fewer misunderstandings about why and how decisions are made.
“People could re-watch it and make sure they got the right message, instead of not hearing something.”
Killens, who represents schools on Manitoulin Island, said it's also very difficult for parents in his area to make it to board meetings in downtown Sudbury, something the video-recordings would remedy.
Both Kirwan and Killens told Northern Life they were very disappointed about the motion being voted down.
Kirwan said he might bring back a motion in the future, asking that a third-party organization video-record the meetings instead, as they don't have the same requirements under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
He said he might also make this an issue in 2014, when trustees are up for reelection.
Rainbow board director of education Norm Blaseg spoke out against the idea of spending money on the initiative.
He said these funds would be much better spent on initiatives directly benefitting students, including improving video surveillance at schools.
“If we had a pool of money and a pool of resources, I'd say fine,” Blaseg said. “But at this point in time, I cannot support this.”
While trustee Dena Morrison said she's “all for transparency,” she said she couldn't support the motion because of the costs involved.
“Dollars are so limited, and I have a great difficulty in my head rationalizing how this at all impacts on student success, so I won't be supporting it.”
John Hamalainen, whose son attends Grade 1 at Algonquin Road Public School, shared his thoughts on the matter after watching the proceedings at the Jan. 29 board meeting.
He said he thought the costs involved were “reasonable,” and would go a long way towards increasing transparency.
“In this day and age, you really have to make sure that you go out of your way to the public that you're being transparent, fair and open, so that everybody understands that everything is aboveboard,” Hamalainen said.
He said the video-recordings would give parents much more information than is available in meeting minutes, which “don't even come close” to recording everything that happens at meetings.