Alberta School Boards president wants to return transparency to organization

Lorrie Jess was elected president on Monday after an exodus of leadership

The new president of the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) wants to bring bring transparency back to the organization.

Lorrie Jess, who is also the Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) trustees chairperson, was elected to the position June 4 after an exodus of members. The president, vice-president, executive director and two 20-year staffers all resigned just days prior to the spring meeting.

Former president Mary Martin’s June 1 resignation letter states that recent allegations made against the organization are “patently untrue.”

“To suggest cutting our current staff complement by 25 per cent, in particular when staffing in this budget has already been slashed and a staffing deficit is still being navigated, is in no one’s best interest,” states Martin in the letter.

While Martin’s resignation spoke directly to budget concerns, the $5 million draft document was not made public, something the Canadian Taxpayers Federation challenged.

For Jess, the question of transparency falls down to one simple point. “You operate on membership fees from school boards and our dollars come from the public,” said Jess.

Martin’s letter stated there has been incredible work being done by the ASBA but, “…they are continually jeopardized by active attempts to discredit and undermine.”

“Valuable and productive work takes a back-seat to a discourse that is focused instead on politics, power, and derision,” states Martin, adding that she felt her ability to productively lead ASBA has come to a close.

In the 13 of her 14 years of being a school trustee, Jess says this was the first time the budget was presented with a cloak of secrecy. Members received the budget with a stamp stating ‘For membership only.’ Jess hopes by being transparent, there will be a change to the culture of secrecy that seems to have enveloped ASBA operations.

“It’s going to be very ironic. The first letter I’m going to get as president of the ASBA is from the WCPS chair, Lorrie Jess,” she stated.

WCPS’s letter to the ASBA requests that the budget be considered a public document, explained Jess. Prior to this year’s budget presentation, members would be able to ask questions and provide input. Not so for this year. WCPS pays $50,000 a year to the ASBA, and all school boards have to be a member in order to receive Alberta school board employment benefits, says Jess. Each district fee varies as it is based on the student population.

Jess has a year and a half to change the culture at ASBA, before the next board election. “You have to be open and you have to be transparent.”

One celebration for Jess is that the ASBA budget with a six per cent increase was passed after more than six hours of debate at the spring general meeting earlier this week.

“The only reason that passed was that Edmonton Public (Schools – EPS) voted for it,” suggested Jess.

When asked why she felt EPS voted in support of the budget, Jess feels it all boils down to positive working relationships. “I believe it was Edmonton Public’s way of showing good faith to ASBA’s new president and vice-president (Trina Boymook).”

One of the things Jess wants to see from all of the school board associations, and its members, is a focus on working towards a common goal.

“In my speech I just said that people need to display behaviour that we expect from students in our schools,” said Jess.

ASBA bylaws state that the budget shall be open to amendment until adopted and that full member boards must have the draft at least 60 days prior to the spring meeting.

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