Cowichan school board firing fuels debate in Chilliwack

Chilliwack school community reacts to the firing of Cowichan school board by B.C. Education Minister George Abbott.

Last weekend’s firing of the Cowichan school board fetched mixed reactions in Chilliwack.

Some called it bullying and undemocratic, while others said it was justified.

B.C. Education Minister George Abbott fired all nine trustees on the Cowichan school board on Sunday after the board elected to submit a $3.8 million deficit budget.

As per the School Act, legislated by the Ministry of Education, all school districts are required to submit balanced budgets.

The board was replaced by an unelected official – Mike McKay, superintendent of the Surrey School District – who could hold the position until end of term in 2014.

For Chilliwack school trustee Heather Maahs, the decision was black and white.

“Rules are rules,” Maahs said in an email to The Progress. “That’s what we teach students in school and that’s what needs to be adhered to by example. If one board chooses not to follow those rules, there are consequences that must take place regardless of whether or not a board believes it is taking a moral stand.”

However, Chilliwack District Parents’ Advisory Council president Gord Byers equated the firing to bullying.

“Basically they were told they had to make cuts or get fired,” said Byers. “But how many cuts were they going to have to make to balance that budget? And how was that going to affect student learning?

“These trustees were elected officials. They were trying to do the best for their school district.”

Chilliwack parent and former school trustee John Henry Harter said the dismissal should be concerning to all B.C. school boards.

“It’s completely undemocratic,” said Harter. “The fact they were not passing a balanced budget is a slim justification,” to fire them. “Yes, it was provocative. Yes, they were trying to make point. But I think that’s their job to make a point if they feel education is suffering.

“What it says is you do as you’re told by the provincial government, or you get fired.”

Further proof, Harter said, that trustees, despite being elected, are “government lackies.”