Trustee Rose Tustian (first woman from left) addresses the Fraser-Cascade School District 78 board at the Feb. 21 meeting.

Trustee Rose Tustian (first woman from left) addresses the Fraser-Cascade School District 78 board at the Feb. 21 meeting.

Trustees raise question of SD78’s governance and transparency

Trustees questioned the board’s transparency and governance, while others defended it.

Factionalism dominated the Feb. 21 Fraser-Cascade School District 78 board meeting as trustees questioned the board’s transparency and governance, while others defended it.

If you believe trustees Rose Tustian and Cindy Ferguson, you would think the board purposely keeps items in-camera and that it has problems in its governance. If you believe trustees John Koopman or Ron Johnstone, you would think the board has made progress and maintains positive relationships with teachers and parent groups.

Actions spoke as loudly as words at the meeting, with Tustian and Ferguson both wearing pink, in commemoration of Pink Shirt Day. When tensions boiled over, trustee Tom Hendrickson took a brief walk out of the boardroom, and about two hours into the meeting, Tustian complained that she felt a lot of tension and harassment.

The environment of conflict started when Ferguson brought a motion to have more items discussed outside of the in-camera closed meeting. Her motion stated that SD78 should endeavour to restrict in-camera items to land, legal and labour.

“I feel there should be more transparency,” said Ferguson.

That motion failed to pass 4-3, with trustees Heather Stewin, Ferguson and Tustian supporting.

Opponents argued that the board currently follows this and that trustees can request in-camera items be public, subject to the approval of the board.

Trustee Ron Johnstone called Ferguson’s motion a “blindside,” a term that trustees would use a few more times throughout the meeting that describes a surprise topic with no background, rationale or warning.

Trustees cannot speak to the media directly, hence the basis for Ferguson’s motion is not clear. Tustian and Ferguson both spoke about a joint-use agreement.

“I’ve had people ask me about the joint-use agreement because somebody is talking about it,” said Ferguson.

Tustian also said that she wanted to talk about an in-camera item in the public portion of the meeting, but it was denied. Hendrickson said he could not recall that happening.

Tustian also raised a motion asking that the board applies to the Ministry of Education to appoint a special advisor that will review the board’s practices and provide recommendations. The motion failed to pass, with the same 4-3 result.

“We do not function as a corporate board,” said Ferguson. “We lack procedural fairness, governance and respect. This needs to stop if we are ever going to learn, grow and move forward.

“It’s clear to me that we need assistance.”

Ferguson said that they had opportunities for assistance but they have turned them down, despite this measure being recommended in a report. Tustian said the CEO and president of B.C. School Trustees Association have offered their services to SD78, but heard that they were turned down.

Chair Linda Kerr called that information “erroneous,” as there was a discussion coming to the in-camera section of the meeting.

Hendrickson, Koopman and Johnstone spoke out against the motion. Koopman started by saying that SD78 is “the little train that can,” pointing to progress in trades and highway safety. Hendrickson said differences in opinion should not lead to a provincial inquiry.

Johnstone called this motion a “blindside” and said SD78 has maintained good relationships with teachers, teachers’ associations, staff and parents’ associations.

“We’re functioning very well, thank you very much,” said Johnstone.

Koopman later put forth a motion to stop the “blindsides.”

Koopman said that board members need to be notified of topics that trustees will discuss so that they can have a “level-playing field” by being prepared.

“Sure, the person who has done all the research has the advantage, and I think we should all be on equal footing,” said Koopman.

He eventually withdrew it because of the tension in the room, saying he will give it some thought.