Kamloops school board chair questions ministry’s responses

Denise Harper asks why the Ministry of Education has taken action against the Vancouver school board but not the North-Okanagan-Shuswap

SD73 chair Denise Harper discusses agenda with Robyn Rexin while Shelley Sim and Rhonda Kershaw listen.

Dale Bass – Kamloops This Week

While the province’s education minister has raised the idea of firing the Vancouver School Board (VSB), a Kamloops trustee is wondering why it hasn’t happened already.

Denise Harper, chair of the Kamloops-Thompson board of education, said she would be “heartsick” if senior administration in School District 73 all took sick or stress leave at the same time, as has happened in Vancouver.

The Vancouver board is being investigated by WorkSafeBC after allegations were raised about a toxic work environment.

Six senior administrators are on medical leave and the ministry has been told one of the factors is the way they are being treated by some of the board’s trustees.

Harper wondered why Education Minister Mike Bernier has not taken action given the Vancouver board has been the source of ongoing issues between itself and the government.

Earlier this year, it rejected a proposal from Bernier’s office to help it balance its budget, which is a legislative requirement.

At that time in June, Bernier said he wouldn’t immediately fire the board, instead ordering a full forensic audit.

Bernier has also questioned the board’s recent decision to suspend a process that would see 11 schools closed.

That move came one week after the Vancouver board voted to go forward with public consultations.

Harper wondered why Bernier has not taken action yet when, after the North-Okanagan-Shuswap school board — School District 83 — got into financial difficulty and asked the ministry for help, the response was to fire the board and appoint a new single trustee.

She said that board “got into a pickle” when it transferred more than $10 million from its operating fund to pay for the cost of a new administration building.

At that time, the North-Okanagan-Shuswap board was also cutting programs and discussing school closures.

Bernier fired the board after receiving a report from a special advisor who looked at the board’s governance.

“Why the difference in treatment?” Harper asked.

“It’s confusing to me and it’s unsettling to trustees because there seems to be such a huge difference in how this is being handled.

“Certainly, there were deficiencies in Salmon Arm [SD83], but the fact is they asked for help. It startles me they were replaced.”

The Vancouver school board is not a member of the B.C. School Trustees Association.

SD73 is a member.

Harper said she can’t imagine SD73 senior staff taking an en masse medical leave “because we have so much respect for them.”

SD73 superintendent Alison Sidow echoed Harper’s sentiment, saying she is grateful “to be working in a district where there are such positive relations between senior management and the school board.”

A spokesman for Bernier told KTW the North-Okanagan-Shuswap school board was replaced with the administrator because the report he received highlighted that “this board is not functioning well and the situation would appear to be deteriorating rapidly.

“Remember that the special-advisor report was conducted at the request of the board, and after a number of trustees had resigned,” the spokesman said.

 

He also noted the Vancouver school board forensic audit is not complete.