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Group's decision comes under fire

Parents upset with handling of motion regarding teachers on school boards

Two Herbert Spencer Elementary moms say they disagree with the district parent advisory council's handling of a vote on a controversial issue regarding banning acting teachers from serving as trustees.

Tige Rains and Heather Burke take issue with the fact that the resolution was voted on via email - and not discussed and voted on at a regular district parent advisory council meeting. As well, district advisory parent council members had just one day to email their vote on the resolution.

"They passed four resolutions at the open meeting, and this fifth one, which in my mind is the most controversial. - This one, it impacts on who can run for a political position," said Rains. "If it was handled properly, if it was done in an open meeting where all of the reps had an opportunity to vote appropriately and all of the schools had time to do whatever discussions they wanted to have, and the outcome was the

same, I wouldn't have an issue."

Rains, a teacher in Coquitlam, said she isn't alone in her concern about the way the district parent advisory council is operating.

"This is not just my concern," she said. "I know there are people out there, and other PACs that aren't happy."

The district parent advisory council is made up of parent representatives from each public school in New Westminster. Burke is Herbert Spencer's representative on the district parent advisory council. She said she hasn't attended the group's last few meetings because she isn't comfortable with the "negative" tone and adversarial talk.

"I just don't see that as productive because we can disagree on things, let's just not get personal," said Burke, who noted that she isn't speaking on behalf of her school's parent council.

Burke didn't vote on the teacher-ban motion because she didn't have enough time to confer with her parent council on the motion.

Rains is also concerned about the ongoing adversarial relationship between some executive members of the district parent advisory council and trustees.

The district parent council passed the conflict of interest motion that calls for a ban against acting school district staff from running as trustees.

The British Columbia Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, a group that lobbies the government on behalf of parents, recently accepted the resolution and will discuss it at its meeting in May.

The district parent advisory council's rationale on the resolution was that they want B.C. to follow Ontario and Alberta's lead in banning acting school board employees, including teachers, from serving as school trustees to avoid a genuine or perceived conflict of interest.

Currently, in British Columbia, teachers are only banned from running in school districts where they work.

New Westminster has three teachers serving on the seven-member school board.

District parent advisory council chair Wendy Harris said there's no way to consult with every parent on every motion the parent council moves, though she does her best.

She also said she had "no regrets" around the email vote.

Harris, a New Westminster Secondary School parent, said her efforts aren't political.

"I don't belong to any political party," she said. "I don't care who's running the show as long as they are doing a good job, and if they are doing a good job then there shouldn't be any issues, but there's concerns."

The teacher-ban vote was eight for, one against and two abstained, according to Harris. There are 13 parent advisory councils in New Westminster.

Mary Ann McKenzie, parent advisory council chair at the high school, said she is fine with the email voting process.

In fact, she said it allowed parents at the various schools to have more input than they had into the four other resolutions that were passed and discussed at the meeting.

"What Wendy Harris did, as our DPAC rep - is that she immediately reached out to the full executive of the NWSS PAC, including our members-at-large and our elected executive and said, 'Here's our resolution on the floor, how would you like me to vote?'" McKenzie said. "We are satisfied that we had the chance to consult on that. In fact, we were given more of a chance to consult on that than the other four resolutions that were discussed at the meeting."

Speaking to the relationship between district parent council members and the school district, McKenzie said some individuals are passionate about issues, and she admitted that she asked DPAC to "tone it down" when she was dragged into an issue.

Still, she understands their concern. "Some of that passion is born of frustration," she said. "Frustration on communication."

There's room for improvement on communication and respect on both sides, she said.

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