Who makes policy still an issue at school board

Chilliwack school trustees continued to wrangle over policy matters at the Tuesday board meeting.

Chilliwack school trustees continued to wrangle over policy matters at the Tuesday board meeting, but managed to agree on a few items like a Rotary Club football sponsorship at G.W. Graham middle/secondary School.

And the spending of $217,392 for two 42-passenger wheelchair buses.

But most of the three-hour meeting was taken up by debate, heated at times, about who makes school board policy — the trustees or district staff.

The board earlier approved hiring a consultant in the hope of finding a way out of its dysfunctional morass.

A motion on interim policy development was the first battleground Tuesday.

The motion recommended that after a new policy or policy amendment comes to the board, it would go to staff for research and to draft a policy that would be returned to trustees for final approval.

The motion also called for the deletion of Policy 200 —the development of policies and regulations — and the deletion of the board policy committee from Policy 222 that sets out the board’s committees.

Trustee Doug McKay, who made the motion, must have seen the opposition it would encounter from other trustees.

“This is not a clandestine plan to circumvent policy,” he began. “It mirrors what we do right now, with the exception that instead of trustees crafting or drafting policy … staff would do it.”

“What we are giving up as trustees is the writing of policy,” he said.

But that didn’t sit well with trustees Heather Maahs, Martha Wiens or Silvia Dyck, who believe it is the responsibility of elected trustees to make policy.

Dyck opposed the motion because she felt it “redundant” as board policy already states that policy matters come to trustees first for review, and then they direct staff to develop a policy.

“What you’re changing is absolutely nothing,” she said. “I’m puzzled why we would change a perfectly good policy.”

Maahs objected to the added time the “several more layers” the motion would add to making policy, in light of the current backlog of policy matters.

“I don’t see that this process is the way to go right now,” she said.

But trustee Walt Krahn said what the board is doing now simply isn’t working.

“This will help us streamline (and) provide direction to staff who will do the research and consultation,” he said.

“I think we can expedite the process because what we have right now is not working to my satisfaction,” he said.

Maahs countered by suggesting “we have a cart running before the horse … if a consultant is coming to advise the board on how to run things.”

“Why are we making changes before we meet this person?” she asked.

McKay said he had hoped trustees would try the new approach to see if it would work.

“I think we need to try it (and) if it doesn’t work, I’ll be the first to admit it,” he said.

Trustee Barry Neufeld was “reluctantly in favor” of the motion, but he wanted more opportunity to consult the public on policy matters, especially the “hot potatoes” with political implications like the recent controversy over allowing religious materials to be handed out in Chilliwack schools.

“I think that’s too much of a hot issue to leave up to staff,” Neufeld said.

Board chair Louise Piper agreed that trustees should “try on” the new approach and the motion passed with Maahs, Dyck and Wiens opposed.

Next came a bitter battle over deleting the board’s policy on policy-making, which was included in the motion.

Maahs felt it “ill-advised of us as a policy-driven, policy-making board to simply delete our policy on making policy — without anything to replace it.”

“In effect, what we’ll be doing is deleting our jobs in the interim,” she said. “We will have no job description.”

The deletion of Policy 200 and Policy 222 were eventually approved by 4-3 votes with Maahs, Wiens and Dyck opposed.

But all the trustees found common ground in approving the Rotary Club football sponsorship at G.W. Graham Middle/Secondary School and the spending of $217,392 on two 42-passenger wheelchair buses.

The Rotary Club is making a $10,000 donation to the school in return for temporarily naming the school’s football field the “GWG Rotary Field” with a removable banner that will fly during home games until the end of the 2018 football season.

Dyck pointed out that the board does not have a policy on corporate sponsorship.

But Krahn argued that “corporate sponsorship usually carries some kind of commercial expectation, but that’s not the case with service clubs like Rotary.”

“Corporate sponsorship usually means a corporation is expecting a dividend,” he said. “That doesn’t happen with a service club.”

Said McKay: “It’s the right thing to do.”

The temporary sponsorship was approved unanimously.