Friday, May 21, 2021

Beyond the budget, a range of School District issues may require more than an internal report

It has been quite a few weeks for School District 52 officials, with a Budget preparation period that has delivered some surprising twists for education stakeholders and parents alike to watch unfold.

As we've followed through the weeks and months of recent community engagement on the topic of the School District Budget, as things turned out the discussions of February and March were but a preamble to the main event. 

That being the delivery of what became the bombshell announcement last month of a significant budget deficit of three million dollars, one million of which on Labour expense that the SD52 trustees surprisingly said they had no idea of until seemingly the number crunching became serious.

As they adopted their budget earlier this month, the main focus for the financial paring came down to  layoffs for Itinerant teaching positions and reductions in travel, staffing positions and Occupational Health and Safety themes to name a few.

The prospect of the layoffs one that was not well received by the Prince Rupert and District Teachers Union, which suggested that more internal financial attention should be directed towards the management side of the table.

The other main feature of their decision making for the month, the approval of a motion that will see the Superintendent investigate how the additional Itinerant teachers were hired for 2020-21 school year and why the Board of Education members were not informed of it.

The information release from earlier this week did not indicate if the Superintendent's report will be made public for review, something that parents of those in the system should have access to.

However, as the week moved forward, some concerning internal themes of the School District gained another focus for review; this time through a fascinating interview by CBC Daybreak North's Carolina de Ryk, who hosted Ian Larocque, the District's former Human Resources Director as her guest on Monday morning.

The seven minute discussion which you can access here, is one that provides a bit of a glimpse of the day to day work of the District and how such things as a million dollars in unknown labour expenses could come to take place.

The former HR director's story calls attention to a number of things of note when it comes to spending and the organizational communication at the School District, particularly in the area of what he describes as secret hirings. 

His somewhat shocking description of having to take the unusual action of making a Freedom of Information Request to try do his job is something that should raise a few eyebrows.  

The other issue of note, and a long running one that should be spoken to is the fact that he's now a former Human Resources Director as of February of this year, one of a number of former directors in a department that has been a bit of a revolving door in recent years.

The same could be said for the Superintendent's position, which has also seen a number of changes over the last few years; with any number of changes in direction, making continuity and focus seemingly  a bit of a challenge for SD52 at times.

Beyond the internal management themes, the ongoing distrust that is always bubbling below the surface between the District and PRDTU seems to be a labour relation scar that never really seems to heal and just adds to the level of uncertainty for education in the region.

Combined those should be areas of concern for parents and items of note that should suggest that perhaps an internal review won't be enough and probably isn't quite the path to follow when it comes to full transparency. 

With that the School District may wish to ask the Ministry of Education to appoint someone outside the SD52 circle to conduct a complete review, with the results provided in a public document  for stakeholders and parents to review.

The Ministry does seem wiling to help those School District's that ask for help.  

Having recently responded to a request for assistance by the Victoria School Board, providing for an independent adviser,  as they tackle their own budgetary issues. 

Though for Prince Rupert's SD52, how they address the budget may at the end of the day be but one of a number of concerns that need to be reviewed.

The events of this budget season and growing list of internal themes are providing for a body of governance that may be on the cusp of losing the of the confidence of the public which elected it.

More notes on education in the Northwest can be explored here.

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