Opinion: Value for our money

Professional development plays an important role in the growth of an elected official. But it shouldn’t be a blank cheque.

It’s hard to imagine a situation where it is appropriate for an employee to retroactively bill an employer for attendance to a conference that is outside his or her scope of responsibilities.

And yet, that is what Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld attempted Tuesday night. He wants taxpayers to cover his airfare and accommodation to the “International Congress of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions” he attended in July in the Czech Republic.

All but one trustee said, no.

And with good reason.

READ MORE: Chilliwack school board denies trustee’s $4,000 reimbursement request for Prague trip

Neufeld said he signed up for the five-day conference because of criticism he’s faced over his opposition to SOGI123, an educational resource available to teachers that covers sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Since I had been accused of basing my opinions about the BC’s controversial new learning resources on outdated, untrustworthy sources, I wanted to be abreast of the latest research, as well as the many other special needs of children and adolescents,” Neufeld wrote.

But that argument gained little traction.

“I really question the relevance of a psychiatric conference to do work of a trustee,” said Trustee Dan Coulter. “We aren’t psychiatrists.”

Indeed, the discussion echoed similar concerns voiced at city hall a few weeks ago: Relevance.

While professional development is important to the growth of our elected officials, it has to be justified.

Elected officials may have interests in certain fields, but if taxpayers are going to fund courses, conferences and conventions, they need to be told what benefit those expenses will bring to the community.

If the School District wanted to spend $4,000 to learn more about adolescent psychiatry, it may have wanted to send a staff member who actually works in that field. Or it might have sent two people to a conference closer to home.

There’s no doubt Trustee Neufeld benefited from his experience at the conference in Prague.

The question is what did the Chilliwack school district gain.

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