New spirit of cautious optimism in SD40 – VOICE salutes P4PE and new Superintendent

The emergence of a new parents group, New Westminster Parents for Public Education (P4PE), can only be seen as positive and helpful in the effort to improve education in New Westminster and, indeed, in the entire province. Parental involvement in education should always be welcome in this regard.

VOICE New Westminster has been encouraged to see recent opinions expressed by parents involved with P4PE in so far as VOICE has been making almost the same – if not the same – points about the New Westminster school district (SD40) since our inception seven years ago in January 2007.

The widespread dysfunction that has plagued the administration and governance of SD40 for so many long years is something clearly evident to even the most casual of observers. We therefore want to encourage the members of P4PE to keep up their vocal pursuit of change in SD40.

There is, however, one aspect of P4PE that does concern us and that is the close relationship that several of its self-declared founding members have – or have had in the recent past – with the very organization that has supported and enabled the aforementioned dysfunction to take place in SD40.

We certainly hope the formation of P4PE is not merely an effort to rebrand previous political efforts and special interest agendas with the intention to distance the new group from the debacles of the past – debacles which have put the New Westminster school district into such a terrible financial situation.

Nevertheless, we are sincerely hopeful that P4PE represents the same desire for positive change that VOICE has been articulating for almost a decade now (and which some of our members have been articulating from long before that).

We are also encouraged by the commitment of SD40’s newly-appointed superintendent whose actions have recently put the school district on the path toward sustainable, sound decision-making and management practices.

It all adds up to a new spirit of optimism – cautious optimism, but optimism nonetheless – that things may finally be falling into place in SD40 and that the kind of true change VOICE has been advocating for over the past several years may now be within sight.

Voice congratulates Watt on Brophy trophy

Congratulations to New Westminster school trustee Lori Watt on winning COPE 378’s first annual Ardell Brophy Award.

The Award was initiated this year to recognize members of the COPE 378 union who have “shown exemplary service to their union and their community.”

The award honours Ardell Brophy, a long time COPE 378 union rep, member, activist, and advocate who is also an accomplished stand-up comedian and founder of Laff Riot Girls.

Fittingly, Watt herself is involved in the performing arts as an actress, director and producer.

The photo above shows Watt and Brophy alongside COPE 378 Vice President David Black at the award ceremony.

Black, as many know, is also a long time New Westminster resident and son of New Westminster MLA, and current opposition leader, Dawn Black.

Voice congratulates Ms. Brophy on the creation of this award and Ms. Watt as the first-time recipient.

Concerned Citizen Acquires Legal Opinion on Conflict of Issue Situation

Well, it appears that the conflict of issue situation within SD40 just won’t quit. Recently, Patrick O’Connor, who ran as a Voice trustee candidate in the 2008 election, received a legal opinion on whether Trustee Watt is in a conflict of interest situation in relation to the interests of her employer (and major campaign funder) CUPE BC.

Mr. O’Connor has started New Westminster’s latest blog to, it would seem, share this issue and all the information received with the public.

One can see Mr. O’Connor’s covering email to John Woudzia at:

http://focusnewwest.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/covering-email1.pdf

The written legal opinion can be found at: http://focusnewwest.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/opinion-letter.pdf

Additionally, a “tweet” is available on Twitter that people can use to point their friends to the documents online… Go to @focusnewwest on the Twitter website.

Here’s a link to the blog’s home page: http://focusnewwest.wordpress.com/

This issue was also covered recently by the City Caucus blog as well as the education reporter of the Vancouver Sun and our own local media.

CityCaucus.com: http://www.citycaucus.com/2011/02/legal-opinion-on-conflict-of-interest-causing-heartache

Janet Steffenhagen’s blog on the Sun’s website: http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/reportcard/archive/2011/02/04/conflict-of-interest-allegations-in-new-westminster.aspx

NewsLeader: http://www.bclocalnews.com/greater_vancouver/newwestminsternewsleader/news/115138769.html

Record: http://www.royalcityrecord.com/Trustee+says+legal+opinion+political+attack/4228323/story.html

Peace, order and good government

As everyone knows, Canada was founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… No, wait… That’s the United States.

Canada was actually founded on quite different principles: Peace, order and good government.

On a civic level, these broad principles of peace, order and good government are ones that many people can get behind and support. And in many ways, these are the very same principles that Voice New Westminster was founded on.

If nothing else, Voice New Westminster has proven that people from different political perspectives on a federal and provincial level can find much common ground on a civic level.

Civic issues are very immediate and direct and they cut across political lines: Should a road be widened here or there or not at all? Where should new schools go? Should the city spend money on this project or that one? What level of taxation do the city’s residents and businesses feel is appropriate and bearable? How should the school board allocate its resources?

These are questions best answered through informed community consensus and that’s what Voice has sought to achieve.

After all, good decision-making never results when decisions are made by a select few in the absence of open, honest consultation and thorough discussion with the public.

There’s an endless supply of examples we could provide to illustrate this point, but the recent controversy surrounding the United Boulevard Extension, and whether the city agreed or didn’t agree with the City of Coquitlam to move forward with the project, is a prime example.

And contrary to what one commentator has suggested, seeking transparency and accountability in public affairs is not some sort of sinister gimmick being employed in a cynical way to disguise negative shots. Pointing out the foibles and the errors of decision-makers and their decisions is essential to the process of achieving peace, order and good government in a community.

If the emperors-that-be aren’t wearing any clothes, the citizens must say so. Mindlessly applauding the emperors-that-be and agreeing that their non-existent new clothes are truly wondrous serves no purpose other than pure sycophancy. What our city needs is clearheaded thinking, honest, open-eyed discussion and an end to the apathy that holds us back.

Ultimately, no public good comes when the public’s business is conducted in the shadows and special interest agendas are allowed to replace the interests of the community. Peace, order and good government can only be achieved when light is allowed to shine in.

And that is what Voice was formed to bring about; because nothing good grows in the absence of light, transparency, accountability, and a strong voice for the community and its citizens.


Kudos to Trustee Jim Goring: New SD40 Conflict of Interest Policy

The New Westminster school district now has a conflict of interest policy of sorts.



Kudos to Jim Goring and the other Voice school board trustees for pursuing this issue in the face of resistance from other board members.



Although the new policy isn’t as explicit or clear cut as the policy proposed by Trustee Jim Goring at the November 9th board meeting, it does address the fiduciary responsibility of trustees and senior staff and allows the district superintendent, secretary-treasurer and trustees to point out when a trustee is in a potential conflict of interest.



However, it remains to be seen how the policy withstands the acid test of application.

As background to his notice of motion, Jim Goring stated that “a clear [conflict of interest] policy that includes accountability is imperative so that the public can see that the business of the School Board is transacted free of conflict of interest.”



As a point of interest we’ve provided the text of Jim Goring’s original Notice of Motion below.



Niki Hope also had an article on the subject in the Record.



Again, kudos to Jim Goring and the other Voice school board trustees for pursuing this issue and it will be interesting to see how the new policy withstands the acid test of application.



Submitted by: Jim Goring



SUBJECT: Notice of Motion re: Conflict of Interest



For consideration at the November 9, 2010 Open Board meeting



Background:



The British Columbia Trustee Association recommends that school districts develop Conflict of Interest policy and procedures. SD 40 New Westminster has a motion duly passed to develop such a policy, however, this has not yet been done. A clear policy that includes accountability is imperative so that the public can see that the business of the School Board is transacted free of conflict of interest. The School Board is currently involved in the very important process of contract negotiations with one of its employee groups.



Motion:



THAT the motion passed December 15, 2009 to develop a Conflict of Interest policy be acted upon immediately with a policy developed by November 18, 2010 for consideration at the November 23, 2010 Open Board meeting.



AND FURTHERMORE THAT the policy address apparent and perceived conflict of interest.



AND FURTHERMORE THAT the policy include guidance on the direct and indirect pecuniary interest of a Trustee which at a minimum would include a Trustee:


1. who has parents or children (including financially independent adult children) who are employed by SD 40;

2. who has received election campaign funding or an endorsement from an entity with a pecuniary interest in the matter;

3. who is a shareholder in or a director or senior officer or has a controlling interest in or is a director or senior officer of a corporation that offers its securities to the public, and the corporation has a pecuniary interest in the matter or;

4. who is a partner of a person, is a member of a firm or is in the employment of a person or firm or entity that has a pecuniary interest in the matter.



AND FURTHERMORE THAT the policy shall include guidance on the pecuniary interest of a Trustee in a collective agreement.



AND FURTHERMORE THAT until the policy is developed Trustees shall consider, at a minimum, the following guidelines prior to participating in contract negotiations or discussions on contract negotiations.



Trustees may have direct or indirect pecuniary interests in collective agreements (i.e. those that are negotiated or ratified by SD#40 or BCPSEA) in a number of ways, including:


a) Trustees who are employed by a school district under the collective agreement, or whose spouses are so employed;

b) Trustees who have parents or children (including financially independent adult children) who are employed by a school district under a collective agreement;

c) Trustees who are officers of or employed by trade unions that are parties to a collective agreements because they represent school district employees.

d) Trustees who may have received significant campaign contributions or endorsements from any parties to a collective agreement.

Enjoying the summertime lull

Everyone deserves time off and the Express crew are no different. We hope everyone has been enjoying their well-deserved summer hiatus and making the most of the hot, sunny weather we’ve had in recent weeks.

But September is approaching fast and the cooler weather today is a reminder that summer is starting to wind down.

And despite the summertime lull, there is no shortage of issues requiring the attention and participation of the community.

Notable on the list of simmering issues are the school district capital project and the waterfront pier project.

Waste-to-energy is also back on the table at Metro Vancouver and concerns are being expressed about the implications for New Westminster.

The replacement of the Pattullo Bridge is also emerging as an issue requiring community attention with word that city hall has received a proposed bridge replacement plan from Translink and that Translink is awaiting a response from the city.

As summer winds down and we start returning to our posts we wanted to put some of these issues on people’s radar because September in really just days away now.

Best wishes to all from the Express and we hope everyone fully enjoys the rest of the summertime lull.

SD40 Capital Project framework announced

Congratulations are in order for all parties involved in what appears to be a very encouraging proposal and framework for resolving the many longstanding issues relating to the school district’s capital plan (a plan which includes replacement of New Westminster’s only secondary school, construction of a third middle school, and the replacement of John Robson elementary).



This proposal provides facilities for up to 3,000 of the district’s school children which is good news indeed.



We will be eagerly watching community reaction to the proposal which also includes replacement of the Massey Theatre and the addition of Neighbourhoods of Learning facilities.



Four key documents relating to the project proposal that provide additional details can be accessed through the links below:



Press Release



Capital Project Proposed Comprehensive Plan



Letter from the Minister of Education



Performing Arts Centre Business Framework Agreement



There are also some related articles in the local papers and these can be accessed through the links below.



Massey Theatre could be replaced as part of high school project (New Westminster News Leader: July 21, 2010)



Parents’ groups say high school/Massey plan is ‘promising’(New Westminster News Leader: July 22, 2010)



School plans unveiled (New West Record July 21, 2010)



We’re looking forward to the comments and reactions from the community to this long-awaited announcement.



Scathing report issued on VSB (SD39)

The Comptroller General has just released a scathing report on the Vancouver School Board (School District 39).

In her report, Comptroller General Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland says the current Vancouver Board of Trustees (dominated by COPE/Vision) “has not demonstrated they have the management capacity to effectively govern the Vancouver School.”

The Comptroller General also identified “a potential conflict of interest on the part of a trustee.”

Much of this will sound painfully familiar to many in the New Westminster community, and it could offer a glimpse into where the Auditor General’s current investigation of the New Westminster School Board may be headed.

Time will tell.

But for now, here’s a few salient quotes from the Comptroller General’s report:

The current Vancouver School Board of Trustees governance practices and philosophies are not fully consistent with the requirements of the Act to improve student achievement in a fiscally responsible and cost effective manner. The Board of Trustees does not take a balanced approach to its accountabilities, focusing on advocacy at the expense of stewardship. The majority of the Vancouver School Board trustees see their role relative to the Ministry of Education as one primarily related to advocacy, rather than as “co-governors” of the education system. The effect of this extensive advocacy activity deflects the accountability of the trustees from the overall financial stewardship of the Vancouver School Board.

And…

The current Board of Trustees has not demonstrated they have the management capacity to effectively govern the Vancouver School Board or fulfill all of their accountabilities and duties of the Act. This is evidenced by the quality of board discussions, their focus on short term decisions at the expense of long term sustainability, the lack of strategic and long term plans, and an unbalanced focus on advocacy versus financial stewardship, delaying decisions that would see the effective use of existing or available resources.

And…

We also identified a potential conflict of interest on the part of a trustee between their business interests and their obligations as a board member, in contravention of the School Act. The Minister of Education and the Board of Trustees should take steps to determine whether the conflict of interest has been realized.

And…

The Vancouver School Board had many policies and procedures to promote good conduct and high ethical standards. Notwithstanding these policies and procedures, consistent concerns about the ethical and organizational culture at the Vancouver School Board were strongly evident from our review. These concerns focused on the lack of impartiality of a number of Trustees and a lack of trust, confidence and respect between the Vancouver School Board Trustees and the District Management Team.

And…

The Vancouver School Board‟s present financial and operational situation is the result of choices made by the current and previous Boards of Trustees. The culture and governance practices of the Vancouver School Board, and ultimately the decisions or non-decisions, are reflective of these choices: a number of the decisions have been less than optimal from a financial sustainability perspective. Opportunities to reduce costs, generate revenues and maximize the available resources to the benefit of students have been missed.