Trustees urged to leave hiring decisions to staff

A University of the Fraser Valley professor is cautioning Chilliwack school trustees not to micromanage their staff.

A University of the Fraser Valley professor is cautioning Chilliwack school trustees not to micromanage their staff.

Sheryl McMath, professor with the teacher education program at UFV, who teaches a class on governance and social reform, said a recent proposal to change the wording of Policy 300 wreaks of micromanagement.

Policy 300 currently states that the board is in charge of hiring the superintendent. The hiring of assistant superintendents, secretary treasurers, directors, principals and vice principals is also made by the board on the recommendation of the superintendent. All other district-level supervisors and managers are selected solely by the superintendent.

Trustee Heather Maahs, who has expressed concern with the amount of senior staff who have left the district in the last two and half years, wants that changed. She wants the board to be in charge of hiring all administrative staff.

“When we have that many people changing all at once, it is a bit alarming,” she said.

Two assistant superintendents have retired, a secretary treasurer, who lived in Mission, took a position in Abbotsford last August, the director of finance, who’s been with the district for more than 10 years, resigned as a result of the district’s recent restructuring in operational leadership, and most recently the superintendent announced her retirement for November.

“When we have had so many people leaving, you have to ask what’s going on, what are the problems, what can we do to fix them?” said Maahs.

She believes putting more hiring control into the hands of trustees is the first step. She also believes the board should hold off on hiring a new superintendent and let the staff in the board office “hold down the fort.”

But according to the school act legislated by the B.C. Ministry of Education that is not the role of the board.

The school act states that trustees are responsible for setting and maintaining the district’s budget, and for hiring the superintendent. The superintendent, who has trained expertise in education, is responsible for advising trustees on decisions needing to be made within the district and for implementing what trustees want in the district.

“The school act is really clear that the superintendent is the one implementing the will of the board so the board can be focused on making the best decisions for their community and listening to the members of their community – that’s the focus of the school board,” said McMath.

“Trustees don’t necessarily have the expertise for hiring a whole variety of administrative staff … you need someone with a background in education to be hiring those kinds of people.”

As well, putting more hiring responsibilities on trustees could slow down school district operations.

“The thing that has to be kept in mind is that the board of trustees only meet a certain number of times throughout the year,” said McMath. “Unless they’re planning to add on three or four meetings per month, I just don’t think they have the time to be doing the work of the superintendent. There are too many decisions to be made in short periods of time. Trustees are the ones who make the decisions, not the ones who implement the decisions. If they try to take on both roles, somewhere one of them is going to suffer.”

Last year micromanagement was cited as a fault by the Ministry of Education in its 97-page audit report on the failings of the Vancouver school board. In that report, it was recommended trustees limit consultation with teachers, parents and students, and focus more on increasing school district revenue.

“The recommendations that came out of that report was scary stuff,” said McMath. “I would be hesitant of any board of trustees to be setting themselves up to possibly being attacked like that.

“The best situation is for the board of trustees is to have confidence in their superintendent and their administrative staff to be able to make those daily decisions,” said McMath.

Policy 300 is currently sitting with the district’s policy planning committee for review.

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