Voice director, Patrick O’Connor, had a letter published in “The Record” on Saturday, April 19, 2008
In his weak defence of the Royal City Education Foundation, trustee Ron Bennett is characteristically long on feel-good platitudes and woefully short on providing answers to the serious questions and substantive issues currently being raised by members of this community (Director defends foundation, The Record, April 12).
I have personally received information from parents in five different school communities in New Westminster, expressing their frustration, and even outrage, over their school’s interactions with the education foundation in recent years.
Clearly this is not just a case of “rumours and assumptions … floating around the community,” as Bennett has dismissively phrased it.
These are well-documented and long-standing concerns, and Bennett’s dismissive, platitudinous attitude in the face of these concerns is appalling.
Issues with the Royal City Education Foundation have been brewing in our community for several years, particularly following the controversial hiring in 2003 of a former New Westminster school trustee to work as a “paid fundraiser” for the education foundation, under the umbrella of the school district’s controversial business company.
Back in 2003, when this “paid fundraiser” position was created for the former New Westminster school trustee, a number of the school district’s unionized support staff workers with the Canadian Union of Public Employees indicated their shock and disbelief to me, and to others, and stated that they were just as qualified as the former school trustee was for this “paid fundraiser” position.
They felt the position should have been openly posted, and I fully agreed with them.
Creating this “paid fundraiser” position within the shadowy domain of the business company in order to bypass the normal job posting process showed serious contempt for the spirit and fairness of established employment practices.
Whether Bennett wants to admit it or not, there is a cloud hanging over the Royal City Education Foundation, and the issues must be addressed. Questions and concerns surrounding the foundation have accumulated to the breaking point, and it’s time to sort this mess out.
I’m also certain that it hasn’t been lost on anyone that the Royal City Education Foundation now represents a third problematic leg in the New
Westminster school district empire. The disgraceful saga surrounding the school district’s business company and the efforts that were made by those in charge to rebuff questions and concerns raised by the community is something that everyone is well aware of. And, as everyone will recall, in the case of the business company, the community’s questions and concerns finally prompted the minister of education to appoint an outside investigator to look into the situation.
That outside investigator ended up recommending several new regulations to govern the affairs of school district business companies, and most of these stemmed directly from the issues that diligent members of the community had identified, particularly with respect to issues of accountability and transparency.
Likewise, community concerns about the botched high school replacement project and the inability of the school district to build a badly needed third middle school led the minister of education to appoint the same outside investigator to look into the high school replacement issue.
When all was said and done, it was shown that the school trustees had frittered away $7 million on their high school plan, with nothing to show for it.
And, although the outside investigator’s report to the minister of education regarding the botched high school project has never been made public, to my knowledge, the letter of understanding between the school district and the Ministry of Education laying down the terms for a renewed effort to build a new high school and middle school for New Westminster does shed some light on what he reported back to the minister.
Section 1.8 of the April 27, 2007 letter of understanding states that “the review team noted weaknesses in the project development work that was undertaken in advance of issuing a call for tenders. … Different grade configuration options were not evaluated. … Enrolment projections did not accurately reflect the trend in actual numbers of students being generated from new development in the community. … Inclusion of additional space for ancillary programs and services complicated the building design … (and the) building was not designed to stay within the approved funding allocation.”
Given the apparent but fairly obvious conclusions of the outside investigator about the operation of the school district’s business company and the poor planning involved in the failed high school/middle school projects, one would think that Bennett would take seriously the concerns and issues now being raised by diligent community members about the Royal City Education Foundation.
But, as past experience has demonstrated, Bennett is being true to form in attempting to dismiss these concerns the way concerns about the business company and the high school project were previously dismissed.
Concerns and issues being raised about the Royal City Education Foundation must be investigated. There are too many people in the community who are raising similar concerns, independent of one another, for there not to be something substantively wrong, just as there was with the business company and the high school project.
The only question now is whether the school district will voluntarily submit to an outside review of the foundation and the district’s fundraising efforts or whether such a review will end up being imposed from the outside by the Ministry of Education.