Sheila Taylor has been voted in as chair of the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) after longtime chair Pat Cochrane decided not to seek re-election when residents went to the polls last week.

Joy Bowen-Eyre was selected as vice-chair.

Taylor is serving her second term. For the last term, Taylor and another trustee were often on the losing end of votes that split five to two.

"People are coming off an election where there were a number of issues and I think we're all really excited to bring those views forward," said Taylor. "I think you'll see a lot of new ideas coming from all around the board table and I'm excited about the work. I'm excited about us working well together."

hi-sheila-taylor

Sheila Taylor was chosen to be the Calgary public school board's new chair today.

Taylor said last week she hopes the board's dynamic will change with three new trustees elected. She wants the board to focus on high school class sizes, a more transparent budget and holding fewer meetings behind closed doors.

Transparency was the buzz word many candidates used during the recent election campaign. They were calling for more openness when it comes to decision making.

The new chair hopes the board can provide effective oversight on what happens in the CBE.

"It's about ... getting a good understanding of what's going on in the school system whether or not that's asking questions about the budget, about policies," she said. "And I would say it's about asking those questions to make our system stronger." 

The CBE has been in the news recently, especially over issues such as spending concerns and larger class sizes.

Some schools have as many as 75 students in special classes, such as instrumental music. A number of high schools are also reporting classes with more than 40 students in core subjects.

Class size concerns

"I think what parents are really asking for, specifically at the high school level, is how many students are in core classes," said Bowen-Eyre. "So that's how many are in the Math 10-1 class, how many are in Science 20 classes? And I think that would give us a better indication of how many students we have in each of the core classes."

The CBE did release some figures, but they were averaged out and Bowen-Eyre points out small specialty classes would skew the numbers.

But the former chair told CBC recently there is too much emphasis on the issue of class size. 

"Parents like small class sizes. Research tells us that's not the best bang for the buck," Cochrane said.

The CBE says enrolment in its schools is up by 3,631 students this year, an increase of 3.4 per cent across the system.

The school board also had to deal with budget issues this year. Last April, the board said it was going to have to make cuts as a result of the provincial budget released in March. In the end, the budget was cut by two per cent.

Another change on the horizon for the board is chief superintendent Naomi Johnson announcing earlier this month she will be resigning from her position next year.

Taylor says the board will start looking for a new chief superintendent, and hopes to get more detailed information from administration on budgets and other programs.

Frank Bruseker, the president of the Calgary public teachers local union, is hoping for improvements with this board and believes Taylor is a good choice for chair.

"[She] had more votes even on a percentage basis than Mayor Nenshi, so certainly lots of support in amongst her electorate," he said. "So I think that's a good sign that the new board chair has the support from her own constituents."