By Matthew Liebenberg
Chinook Board of Education trustees had second thoughts about creating an ad hoc committee to consider the future of Stewart Valley School.
A majority of trustees voted in favour of a motion to dissolve the ad hoc committee during a regular meeting of the Chinook Board of Education, Jan. 9.
There was no consent around the table about this matter, with a 6-4 vote in favour of the motion. This was a reverse of the situation at the Dec. 12 board meeting, when a decision was originally taken with a 6-4 vote to establish an ad hoc committee.
Board Chair Kimberly Pridmore said before the vote on the latest motion that trustees had further discussion about this matter during the closed session of the Jan. 9 meeting and there was a decision to overturn the ad hoc committee.
Both Pridmore and Board Vice Chair Dianne Hahn indicated in their remarks before the vote on the motion that they still support the original motivation for the establishment of the ad hoc committee.
The purpose of the ad hoc committee was to make a recommendation to the board about the future of Stewart Valley School, which was destroyed in a fire caused by a bolt of lightning on Aug. 26. The issue of contention was the composition of the committee.
Nine board members were to be part of the ad hoc committee, but the trustee for the Stewart Valley School catchment area was to be excluded to avoid any perception of a potential conflict of interest. This decision was based on legal advice from the Saskatchewan School Board Association, which indicated the school division might put itself at risk if Subdivision 2 trustee Rachael Eliason is part of the decision making about Stewart Valley School.
“I appreciate that there are different opinions on bias and conflict of interest as it relates to this situation, but I believe that Rachael’s close connection to the community makes it difficult for her to look at this objectively,” Pridmore said during her remarks. “When considering legal counsel we received from the organization that our board belongs to, and the fact that several trustees had approached me as the chair to voice their concerns, I felt obligated to propose the formation of this committee.”
She noted that the original motion to support an ad hoc committee was supported by the majority of board members.
“We all represent every school in the division, and I believe that we need to trust each other and the process,” she said. “However, if this motion passes, I believe we’ve had the necessary conversation to demonstrate that we considered the integrity of the board and its decision-making process, and we will move ahead in the spirit of cooperation.”
Eliason indicated at the previous board meeting in December that she did not feel there is a potential conflict of interest, and she is fully prepared to represent the different opinions that might exist in the community about the rebuilding of the school. Two other trustees also expressed reservations during that meeting about the establishment of an ad hoc committee to exclude Eliason.
Other trustees decided since then to reconsider their view about the matter, which resulted in the 6-4 vote in favour of the motion to dissolve the ad hoc committee during the Jan. 9 meeting. Pridmore spoke afterwards to the Prairie Post about the outcome of this vote.
“The rationale is really quite simple,” she said. “There was some reconsideration. We just heard from some constituents and their concerns. Trustees gave it some second thought today and we had some discussion, and the majority voted this time to dissolve the committee in support of keeping all 10 trustees in any conversation regarding Stewart Valley.”
The feedback from the community on the original motion to establish an ad hoc committee expressed concern about the exclusion of Eliason.
“I think the community felt some frustration that they didn’t believe the local trustee would have that ability to offer feedback and local perspective,” Pridmore said. “Anyone that I talked to I assured them that was not the intention and that we did plan to have some way for the trustee to provide some written submission of information and also to speak to it at the committee meeting as well. So I believe there was the opportunity for the Stewart Valley community to be heard at that committee level, but there was not support for it today.”
She indicated there was some tough discussion around the board table about this matter before the motion was made to dissolve the ad hoc committee.
“There’s been some difference of opinion, for sure,” she said. “We had some tough conversations today, but we plan to move ahead and be a solid group of trustees and work together for the best outcome we can.”
Trustees are elected by their community and they are closely connected to their areas, but Pridmore did not feel the discussion about the potential conflict of interest of a trustee in relation to the Stewart Valley School will create a precedent for future decision making by the board.
“We understand that a trustee brings in certain biases from just the connection to their local communities and we don’t want to get rid of that, because we do want the local voice to be heard and valued, but I think the key thing to remember is that we do represent all schools, not just our own home ones,” she said.
She elaborated on this point by explaining that trustees are elected by constituents in their subdivision, but thereafter they become part of the corporate board for the school division.
“Once you become part of the corporate board, you represent all schools in Chinook, not just your home schools and not just the best interest of your home schools,” she said. “You have to consider everything else that goes on in the division as much as you would your own schools and I think that’s something that we’ll just need to reaffirm as we walk through the process.”
The Chinook Board of Education decision on Jan. 9 to dissolve the ad hoc committee took place only hours before a community meeting about Stewart Valley School was held at Central School in Swift Current.
The meeting provided an update to the community about the process and the information already gathered by the Chinook Board of Education in relation to a decision about a school in Stewart Valley. This meeting was not open to the media and further details will only become available once the Chinook Board of Education made a decision.
Pridmore said the board’s intention was to receive feedback from the community and to also consider other information needs before their decision. That might include conversations with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of SaskBuilds and Procurement.
“The goal is as soon as possible, but it’s just too soon to say,” she said about when the board will take the decision. “We’re getting closer, but we would still not have a specific date in mind.”