Chilliwack school board trustee Barry Neufeld at the previous board’s last meeting before the Oct. 20 election. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress file)

Questions over Chilliwack school trustee’s expenses for conference unrelated to education

FOI reveals Barry Neufeld spent most on the last board to attend a restorative justice conference

What exactly are taxpayers paying for when elected officials jet off on the public dime to conferences and meetings around North America?

Some questions were raised recently about Chilliwack school board’s Barry Neufeld’s expenses for 2017-2018, but the embattled long-time trustee defends his attendance at a conference not directly related to education or his role as a trustee.

In response to a freedom of information (FOI) request by The Progress about the expenses of the previous Chilliwack school board, a breakdown was received. What was revealed is that Neufeld spent the highest amount of the seven trustees, if not by a large margin.

But what differed, is that all six of the other trustees attended events directly related either to education or the job of a trustee.

The vast majority of Neufeld’s expenses went to a conference in Toronto dedicated to restorative justice held by the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP). The IIRP is a private university in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Asked about the conference, Neufeld described it as a “world class conference on restorative practices in schools,” although the title, “2018 IIRP Canada Conference: Leading and Sustaining Change” implies nothing about education or the public school system. And while the vast majority of the conference breakout sessions had nothing to do with public education or the role of a school trustee, Neufeld listed numerous workshops he attended that were indeed relevant to education.

Some of those sessions: “Cultivating Community – Restorative Practice School Projects: Measuring Our Impact”; “Education as a Community of Care: Walking the Restorative Talk to Build Inclusion”; and “Leading and Sustaining Restorative Practices in Schools: The Journey of Administrators and Teachers in Toronto.”

• RELATED: Election documents show Chilliwack school board candidates shared finances

• RELATED: Neufeld a no-show at fundraiser in his honour

Of the expenses incurred by Chilliwack trustees last year, Neufeld had the highest total at $2,960.98 followed by board chair Paul McManus at $2,729.94 and Bob Patterson at $2,458.62. Other totals included: Heather Maahs, $2,046.55; Walt Krahn, $1,892.19; Dan Coulter, $1,751.81; and Silvia Dyck, $1,742.95.

McManus, Patterson and Coulter attended the B.C. School Trustees Association (BCSTA) trustee academy. McManus, Krahn and Coulter attended the BCSTA AGM.

Maahs attended a conference in Toronto stated to be on “Research Ed.” Krahn attended the Canadian School Boards Association (CBSA) congress in Whistler and a national trustees gather on aboriginal education in Nova Scotia. Dyck attended the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association symposium. Patterson was also at the CBSA congress in Whistler and the event in Nova Scotia.

McManus attended a Ministry of Education-BCSTA liaison meeting and a meeting with the ministry and board chairs.

As for Neufeld’s conference on restorative practices, he said “there were many educators there from around the world.”

Asked if he reported to the board about what he learned at the conference, he did not respond. Also asked about Neufeld’s attendance at that conference and if he reported back to the board was former board chair Paul McManus who said he did not.

“Barry didn’t have a lot to say or offer in my four years as a trustee – occasionally he would offer some ‘insight’ on a certain topic,” McManus said. “He’s always been a big advocate of restorative justice. He didn’t step up and do much with that advocacy, though, during my brief involvement with the board.”

• RELATED: Newly elected Chilliwack school trustee calls for 30 per cent pay hike


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