Ewen: ‘...we’re still the ones who carry the can’

A longtime New Westminster school trustee believes current trustees are abrogating their responsibilities.

Over the past three or four years, trustee Michael Ewen said he’s noticed a change in the dynamic between the school board and district staff that has seen trustees take less of an interest in the management of the district, ultimately passing off responsibility to staff.

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“We’re responsible for the budget, we’re responsible for everything that happens in the school district, yet we’re giving unfettered authority to the superintendent to do everything, and I think that’s a problem, and I think that’s a concern,” he said.

“We’re still ultimately the bosses; we’re still the ones who carry the can. In Vancouver, when they didn’t pass the budget and they got fired, they didn’t fire the superintendent, they fired the school board. We’re the ones who have the responsibility. So I think we should be questioning staff. I think we should be asking how things are done and why things are done.”

But with new information being released about allegations of bullying within the Vancouver school district, is there a limit? The Record asked Ewen if he thought there’s trepidation on the part of local trustees to push back against information they receive from staff.

“The line is you need to be respectful. The line is you need to be able to say to administration, ‘No, that’s not what we want, we want this,’” he said.

Instead, Ewen said he’s seen trustees ask fewer questions and staff provide less time for discussion of documents he thinks are important.

At the Feb. 28 board of education meeting, trustees were asked to approve the district’s 2016/17 amended budget immediately so it could be submitted to the Ministry of Education before the midnight deadline. This left trustees with two-and-a-half-hours to discuss the document.

But because an amended budget is an update on district spending and revenue for the current school year, there can be significant differences between it and the annual budget approved earlier in the year, Ewen said.

For example, according to the 2017 amended budget, the school district spent about $377,000 less on supplies than it had budgeted for. It’s because of these kinds of changes that Ewen would like to see trustees more engaged and staff provide more time for discussion and changes, if necessary.

Ewen plans to make a motion at the next board meeting to change the district work plan to allow for more time for consultation on the amended budget. This would align New Westminster with most other school districts in the region where the amended budget is presented either in January or early February.

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