Can the Rainbow Board fix its transparency problem?

SUDBURY - The Rainbow Board must do a better job of engaging the community, says Trustee candidate Richard Eberhardt, but first it must fix a transparency problem.

“Transparency is about public perception and trust,” says Eberhardt. “Concerns about transparency are a roadblock to engaging families, students and staff in building a system that better meets their needs.”

Calling on the sitting board to take immediate action, Eberhardt has championed several changes to existing board practices, including online video-streaming of board meetings, and responding to questions directly from the public, in an effort to build trust.

The largest school board in Northeastern Ontario, thousands of families in Sudbury and Manitoulin Districts are directly connected to the Rainbow board. Students, families, staff, and supporters whose education levy goes to the public board are all invested in, and affected by the success of the system. Engaging these groups in setting multi-year strategic directions is one of the Board’s most important roles, but most of these voices are silent, says Eberhardt.

The lack of an engagement plan is an opportunity missed, and must by addressed by new leadership.

“People are connected to their community school, but there is virtually no dialogue between the Board and its stakeholders,” says Eberhardt. “The lack of an engagement plan is an opportunity missed, and must be addressed by new leadership.”

Over 60% of respondents in a recent Sudbury.com poll showed no interest in voting for Trustee, a statistic Eberhardt points to as a symptom of a deeper problem. “I believe it shows that people are disconnected from the role the School Board plays, and tells of the isolation of the Board from the people they have been elected to represent.”

Eberhardt is disturbed by strongly negative public reactions which emerge when issues like school closures become public, suggesting distrust of the public in the Board’s decision making.

“Transparency is vital to building public trust,” says Eberhardt. “When dealing with difficult issues such as school closures public trust that a fair decision will be made is absolutely vital. A lack of trust makes true engagement impossible.”

Eberhardt recommends three actions the RDSB can take to increase transparency of its own decision-making processes.

- Live Stream Board Meetings. “Having chaired meetings in the state of the art boardroom at the new offices at Wembley School, I know the technology is in place. The only thing holding the board back is will.”

- Cut Back on Jargon. “All boards, all systems, are prone to jargon. As an educator, I am ‘in the know’ on many terms which are used at the board table, but this language leaves many stakeholders behind. Committing to jargon-free language at board meetings will help make these discussions accessible to Rainbow Schools stakeholders.”

- Accept Questions from Stakeholders. “Meetings of the Board are open to the public, and are often attended by individuals invested in the success of the board’s programs. A system for receiving their questions and having the board or senior staff respond publicly is the ultimate expression of transparency.”

“Becoming more transparent and building public trust is only a first step towards a real engagement plan,” says Eberhardt, committing to outline further an engagement plan over the coming weeks.

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Richard Eberhardt is a candidate for RDSB Trustee in Area 2, including Levack, Onaping, Dowling, Chelmsford, Azilda and the Donovan areas of Greater Sudbury.

As Program Director of reThink Green, responsible for the Green Economy North program, a former elementary classroom teacher, longtime constituency assistant to the MP for Sudbury, and chair of the Social Planning Council of Sudbury, Richard has a long history of community engagement and leadership, and a true passion for public education.

For more information, contact Richard: trustee@richardeberhardt.ca // 705 562-1239

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