Voices of anger rang out at the first Limestone District School Board meeting of the school year in Kingston. Parents and community members are renewing their calls for more transparency at the school board.
The board has faced criticism in recent weeks over the way it conducts private meetings — and a lack of sharing information with the public.
“This is a pattern,” says Paul Smith, a trustee candidate in the upcoming election. “What we have seen is a reluctance to give heed to the concerns of parents.”
Board trustees have been questioned for many of their actions over the past few months — particularly over their alleged continued use of closed-door meetings. The board is allowed to hold meetings if they deem necessary, but the problem that critics have is what they say is a lack of information surrounding the decision to hold the meeting in private.
Trustee candidate Roberta Lamb has been paying attention to the meetings over the past year. She claims it’s an issue.
“I have seen meetings held as closed meetings, and not properly reported.”
One private meeting that was of particular concern to advocates was when the late trustee David Jackson’s replacement was chosen. Critics claim they chose a former trustee, rather than allow members of the public to apply for the position.
Perhaps the biggest conversation surrounding the lack of transparency was sparked by what happened to Tom Mahoney, a censured trustee. He was banned from attending all meetings — for what the board claims were repeated inappropriate behaviour. However, the discussion around this decision was once again held in a closed-door meeting.
“If you’re doing business behind closed-doors, that’s not transparent,” says Paul Smith. “How can they be held accountable?”
Mahoney attempted to have his voice heard at Wednesday’s meeting but was denied the opportunity to speak, a disappointment for the trustee. “It’s just blatant disrespect.”
Board chair Paula Murray says Mahoney was given ample time to defend himself against the allegations, and he declined. Now he must follow protocol.
“It is my responsibility to enforce the code of conduct,” Murray says. “Trustee Mahoney is a sanctioned trustee. He is more than welcome to reach out if he wants to communicate.”
Mahoney has admitted that he did violate the code of conduct but says the length of his ban is unreasonable.
WATCH: Sanctioned LDSB trustee denied from speaking at Kingston-area school board meeting
“Under the Education Act, it allows for board trustees, the ban of a trustee for one meeting.” The Limestone District School Board maintains the length of the sanction is due to the repeated violations of the code of conduct.
On Wednesday, a board trustee introduced a motion, which was passed to address concerns about openness in their meetings. Laurie French, who brought the motion to the table, says she thought it was important for them to listen to the public.
“There were concerns about private session, and we need to make sure that people are getting the information and understand why private session is necessary.”
However, Lamb claims the motion is not needed. “It’s already in their rules, they just aren’t following them.”
That seems to be the confusion surrounding most of the closed-door meetings in question — the public claims the reasoning for these meetings is not readily available.
Those voices have been heard loud and clear over the past few months. In this year’s election, a total of 11 candidates have signed on with the #Trust-EE campaign — an effort to call for more openness in the next school board.
Candidates plan on running on policies they say will call for transparency and openness within the school board.