School board meeting deals with school closures and conflicts of interest
Finance meetings, strategic planning, and the monthly meeting of the School District 51’s Board of Trustees has kept educators and parents busy over the last three weeks. The board has been trying to find middle ground in cuts to the district to meet the funding available from the province for the Boundary region this year that falls short by $976,000.
Meanwhile, the monthly board meeting held in Midway, B.C. on Apr. 13 focused on the plan for school closure consultations in Beaverdell, and a proposed conflict of interest guideline for the trustees along with the regular reports from staff. A group of about 20 parents and interested community members attended the regular board meeting.
In a briefing memo provided to the board, Superintendent Michael Strukoff proposed that the first public consultation meeting regarding the possible closure of the Beaverdell Elementary School be held on Apr. 27 at the Beaverdell fire hall. A document regarding the closure will be made available to the public, and this first meeting will be focused on gathering input from the community.
As the board is faced with financial shortfalls, there was a discussion around the costs of the consultation process. Strukoff was clear that the purchase of a sound system and microphones to facilitate the meeting was included in this year’s budget and will be used by the community at large to recover some costs. Trustees also posed questions about the possibility of using an outside facilitator for the meeting but in the end it was decided to do the first meeting without outside assistance. The consultation process was laid out during the meeting.
“If we have a process where the first meeting is where the public is provided with the documents that we’ve already put together, and we have our first public meeting where for sure we’re going to have questions. We’ll deal with the questions that we can that night, any questions that we can’t deal with we need to provide opportunities and a very clear avenue for people to access the answers to those questions,” explained Teresa Rezansoff, chair of the board of trustees. “When we go out to the second meeting I think it makes sense to be able to have some paper form of the questions and answers provided.”
Further meetings for the closure consultations will be decided after the initial meeting has been held and may include a private meeting to consult with staff.
The budget process for the upcoming school year continues. The district and school-based administrative staff have worked together to propose a budget to address current funding shortfalls. This proposal was taken to two public finance committee meetings for input and will be finalized after other meetings planned for early May. To date there are proposed salary and benefit reductions of about $392,000 for teachers, $231,000 for teaching assistants, and $36,000 for teachers on call. Other areas proposed for cuts include transportation assistance for parents, and cuts to support staff. The closure of Beaverdell Elementary School is not yet included in funding reductions.
The most contentious issue for the evening was a proposed guideline regarding conflict of interest for trustees. While trustee Kris Sabourin was disappointed in the format of the guideline and had wanted more initial dialogue to create the document Rezansoff reminded the trustees that they had requested staff provide a draft for discussion.
Vicki Gee, trustee for Kettle Valley North, was concerned that the guideline not be too restrictive for anyone who lives in the area to be able to represent the needs of their constituents and still be within the guidelines.
“The reason this conversation is so important is that we’re talking about representation of our public at this board. So if we want to be sure that we’re not asking trustees to leave unnecessarily too, we want to balance that too,” said Gee. “I think if we can develop an understanding of where we’re going with this, I think that complications don’t have to be too onerous in the future.”
While some of the trustees felt that the guideline was developed to target the conflicts that might arise specifically for Sabourin whose husband is a teacher and an officer with the teachers union, Rezansoff identified many instances in which conflict can arise and the need for the board to be diligent.
“It at times can be difficult to hold all the pieces (of a meeting) together without the assistance of all of us. In particular if there is any one of us that in particular feel that there is even a slight potential for conflict, whether it’s real or not, I need to be able to rely completely on all of us to be able to say that they could have an issue here without always having to be relying on me. I think that’s the piece that the guidelines will address,” said Rezansoff.
The board decided to send the guideline to the next board meeting to give time to discuss and review the document.
Upcoming Board of Trustees meeting dates:
• Beaverdell community consultation – April 27, 2010 6:30 p.m.,
Beaverdell fire hall
• Policy Committee – April 27 & May 25, 2010 at 4:30 p.m.
• Finance Committee – May 4, 2010 (to be confirmed); West Boundary TBA
• Board of Trustees – May 11, 2010; School Board office, 6:00 p.m.