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Conflict-of-interest rules for school trustees under reviewOctober 18, 2013

Author: Webmaster

The B.C. School Trustees’ Association (BCSTA) has formed a working group to review conflict-of-interest rules that guide its members at board-of-education tables.

PresidentTeresa Rezansoff said the review, announced Thursday, was launched in anticipation of provincial changes to bargaining that could give trustees a greater role in contract negotiations through their provincial association.

“If there is going to be a change (to provincial bargaining), it’s an opportunity to take a look at existing conflict rules, which . . . haven’t been examined or looked at in all the years that I’ve been a trustee,” she said.

Conflict-of-interest concerns have surfaced from time to time in recent years. New Westminster has been one of the hot spots, with a focus on trustees who have family members employed by the district and trustees who work as teachers in other districts.

(Three of seven New Westminster trustees are teachers.)

Last year, the BCCPAC passed a resolution at its annual general meeting calling on the Liberal government to amend legislation to disqualify school board employees from serving as trustees in any district.

That is the law in Alberta and Ontario, and the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2007 that such restrictions do not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. British Columbia only prohibits school board employees from becoming trustees in their own district.

The B.C. Education Ministry has also flagged conflict of interest as a concern. A transition binder prepared this year for new Education Minister  Peter Fassbender says the B.C. Teachers’ Federation strategy “is to ensure that its members win a majority of seats on boards of education. This contributes to frequent conflicts of interest, which hamper effective decision-making.”

The binder, released in response to a freedom-of-information request, also says the ministry will “work with boards and BCSTA to ensure that trustees are aware of and trained in good governance practices.”

After its review, the BCSTA working group – chaired by West Vancouver trustee Jane Kellett – will decide if it should recommend changes to the association’s membership. Members would then vote on whether they want to press government for legislative amendments.

The 12 members have not been given a deadline for completing their work, but Rezansoff said the issue might be discussed at the BCSTA annual general meeting in spring 2014. (The next municipal election is scheduled for fall of that year.)

B.C.’s 60 boards of education each have five, seven or nine trustees, for a total of about 400 province-wide. The ministry binder noted the low voter turnout for trustee elections and said there are “concerns about trustees’ understanding of their role and their capacity to fulfil it.”

The BCSTA working group is expected to hold its first meeting next week.

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