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Chilliwack trustees won't cross picket line

Two Chilliwack trustees refused to cross teacher picket lines set up at the board office during the June 17 public board meeting.
Chilliwack school district trustees Barry Neufeld and Dan Coulter took a stand for teachers at the June 17 public board meeting. The two trustees refused to cross the picket lines and spent the meeting outside with teachers instead.

Two Chilliwack school trustees showed their political stripes Tuesday night.

Trustees Dan Coulter and Barry Neufeld refused to cross the picket line at the school board office Tuesday evening, even though it meant not participating in the scheduled public board meeting.

"In the election, I said I wouldn't cross picket lines," said Coulter.

Not surprising.

Coulter, a former welder and millwright, before being paralyzed in a workplace accident, was president of the Chilliwack-Hope BC NDP constituency association before winning last fall's school trustee byelection.

Instead of sitting around the board table, Coulter and Neufeld spent the duration of the meeting talking with picketing teachers and sitting in Coulter's truck.

Not crossing the line was "out of respect for collective bargaining and unions and what they do and represent," said Coulter.

"I think it's important because locally it's different then the provincial government negotiating with the BCTF. Locally, when it's all over, we all live in the same community and we see each others faces, and we've got to go back to a positive working relationship when this is all over."

The majority of of his colleagues, however, disagreed.

Trustees Doug Mckay, Heather Maahs, Walt Krahn, Martha Wiens and Silvia Dyck crossed the picket line and participated in the meeting.

For board chair Walt Krahn, passing agenda items trumped taking a stand.

"The important business of the day needed to carry on," said Krahn.

Of the agenda items, the board approved the budget and achievement contract, both of which were required to be submitted to the Ministry of Education by the end of June.

"I certainly respect the process of negotiations, I fully understand the issues of funding, but in our case, we needed to carry on," said Krahn. "Our entire community, including members of the community, students and teachers, need to have a budget in place for September. It was the important business of the board that supported my need to be in the board meeting."

Krahn said the absenteeism of the dissenting trustees did not affect the meetings proceedings. However, labour strife did.

Originally the meeting was to feature a presentation by staff and students from Chilliwack middle school on the new aboriginal applied skills rotation program at the school. That, however, had been deleted from the agenda because of the teacher strike.

"We didn't want to put staff into an awkward, compromising position," said Krahn.

While Coulter expressed disappointment at missing the meeting, he said he'd do it again in a heartbeat.

"I've never crossed one, never ever," he said.

School trustees are paid a monthly stipend, but it is not based on the meetings they attend.

Tuesday's meeting was the last public board meeting until September.