Decision on cutting Cowichan school board size expected soon

The Cowichan Valley could know as early as the end of June if the number of trustees is to be cut from the current nine.

Trustee Mike McKay told a meeting Wednesday, June 18, "there will certainly be a decision soon, probably by the end of June or early July and it’ll be earlier rather than later."

McKay will not make the decision. Any cuts would be made by Education Minister Peter Fassbender.

The district called the meeting to hear public comment on the idea of reducing the number of trustees.

Only about 15 people turned out, with about a third of that number made up of people who had served as trustees in recent years.

McKay took over July 1, 2012 after the elected board sent in a deficit budget triggering the provincial government to firing them and replace them with a trustee.

He pointed out that, as a new board will be elected in the general municipal election on Nov. 15, people who might want to run for trustee should know soon if there is any decision to change the number of trustees.

Only the minister can make that decision and his options are for a board of five, seven or nine trustees, McKay said.

The idea of cutting the size of the board has been suggested and rebuffed more than once at the board table but is coming up again now because the public has expressed interest in the idea, McKay said.

A ward system introduced when the district was formed after the amalgamation of the Cowichan and Lake Cowichan districts ran from 1996 to 2002, and since then elections have been held district-wide.

McKay said that during consultations on restructuring the district in the past year he had discovered there was a desire among certain members of the public to see the size of the board reduced as parents were asking about ways to save money and make the school board more efficient.

"I passed that information along to the minister," he said, pointing out that the district parent advisory council had also written a letter at that time in support of cutting the board’s numbers. "I will make no recommendation myself to the minister. He’s sensitive, though, that this can’t wait too long. There are people who are considering standing for election," McKay said.

Caroline Kirman, DPAC president, said the question about saving money by cutting the size of the board comes up in her group every year, even though it is known that trustees are the most poorly paid employees of the school district.

Mary Dolan said "there is no point in saving money if trustees can’t fulfill their responsibilities" and wondered if a reduced board could do all the work.

McKay said when he moved from Saanich to Surrey he found the huge Surrey district actually got by with fewer committees and shorter board meetings than Saanich, showing that some boards have traditional ways of doing things that may not be actually related to effective governance.

Kirman suggested that some of the new time-saving practices introduced during McKay’s tenure could be implemented.

Anyone who wants to share their thoughts for McKay to forward to the minister can send them to officialtrustee@sd79.bc.ca