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Newly fired Cowichan Valley school board taking time on next steps

Jul 04 2012

It will likely be several weeks before Cowichan trustees decide when to launch a planned court challenge of their firing by the B.C. government, the former chairwoman said Tuesday.

Eden Haythornthwaite, who has vowed to fight her removal, said that she and her colleagues have yet to map out their next move.

“It’s a little too soon,” she said. “We’re taking a few days and some of us are away. I think that that decision will come closer to the end of July.”

Education Minister George Abbott fired the nine-member board on the weekend for violating the School Act by failing to submit a balanced budget. Surrey school district superintendent Mike McKay was appointed the official trustee of the district.

Haythornthwaite was part of the board majority that voted 5-4 to submit a budget more than $3.7 million in the red. They argued that they could no longer continue to cut the district’s budget and still provide a quality education.

Trustees in the minority dispute that. They issued a press release this week accusing the board majority of putting politics ahead of students.

Ryan Bruce, one of those in the minority, said the board could have balanced its budget, but those in the majority were unwilling to make the necessary tough decisions.

“You can blame the government, I suppose, for underfunding,” he said. “I mean, there’s never enough money to go around for anything these days. So it’s easier, I guess, just to get fired and let someone else do it.”

Bruce said the district’s education performance stacks up well compared to other jurisdictions, and could have added new revenue streams to improve its bottom line. “We’ve wanted the ability to make decisions locally, so we have to live within those means and find ways to make it work.”

He said there’s a lesson in the Cowichan situation about the risks of voter apathy. The board majority made no secret of their budget plans during last fall’s campaign, yet only 10 candidates challenged for nine seats and less than 29 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots.

“We need to start paying more attention,” Bruce said. “Society needs to wake up to what’s happening in all levels of government. In the district here, we have the largest budget of any of the local governments. We’re the largest employer and we’re responsible for educating the future of our community. And our voter turnout … was low.

“Certainly, when it comes to running and potential candidates, parents need to play a role or others in the community need to start stepping up and putting their names forward.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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