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Calls for SD43’s finance meetings to be public
School District 43’s board of education voted Tuesday to establish a new finance committee in the wake of massive deficit and budget woes over the last 14 months.
But the head of the union whose membership sustained dozens of job losses as a result of that deficit said it’s not right that the committee’s meetings won’t be open to the public.
Dave Ginter took issue with some aspects of Tri-City school trustees’ decision Tuesday to establish a finance committee that will meet regularly, keep minutes, report out its discussions and recommendations at public board meetings but won’t invite the public, partner groups or the media to participate.
A key recommendation of a forensic audit by KPMG that looked into the reasons SD43 racked up an $8-million deficit last year, the committee will be made up of six people: two trustees — chair Melissa Hyndes and Coquitlam’s Gerri Wallis this year — plus representatives from the district’s senior management and its finance department. It will begin meeting by April and terms will last one year, except for the first year (there is an election in November).
Ginter, president of CUPE 561, which represents district support staff, said he welcomes the establishment of the finance committee but wondered why SD43 didn’t follow the example of other districts, such as Vancouver, where finance meetings are public.
“Don’t they preach that they want to be transparent?” Ginter asked.
The Coquitlam Teachers’ Association also wants public discussion of finances but president Charley King said the new committee is a step in the right direction as long as important information isn’t kept behind closed doors.
“I hope there will still be a public element because those discussions need to happen in public,” King said.
When asked why the meetings won’t be public, both SD43 secretary treasurer Mark Ferrari and board chair Hyndes promised regular updates for the public as well as public dissemination of information leading up to decisions, summaries and key facts.
“We have said we are going to be reporting out to the board of education and the board said it’s going to be transparent,” said Ferrari, who will co-chair the committee.
But Ferrari and Hyndes said there will be too many sensitive subjects — including those that deal with land, legal and personnel issues — for the meetings to be public.
Hyndes said she believes the new committee will be diligent in addressing the issues of accountability, financial planning and risk management that were identified by the KPMG audit.
“We felt that by regular reporting out to the public — very regular reporting — that will be enough,” said the Port Moody trustee. “The public will be able to ask questions. We felt that the terms of reference, from what we’ve seen, that this is the way to go.”
Another audit recommendation was that trustees should have some financial training and Hyndes said this will be addressed by the committee. But she pointed out that both she and Wallis are experienced in budgeting and financial affairs — Wallis owned her own business for many years and Hyndes has chaired the finance committee of the BC School Trustees’ Association.
She also acknowledged that some people might be skeptical of the work of the new committee, given the criticisms levelled by the audit that while there was no criminal activity or deliberate misconduct by current or former employees, forecasting errors and other problems emerged that weren’t immediately dealt with.
“It’s never going to happen again,” Hyndes said. “I know people are skeptical but we don’t have the same players at the table, either. This is a completely different group working together.”