School board skirts issues
Supt., audit situations still unresolved
By Chris Woodall
The Howe Sound District School Board continues to keep an audit/review of its finances and operations under wraps, despite repeated promises to make it public.
And the recent announcement that superintendent and CEO Doug Courtice is stepping down is raising questions the school board refuses to answer.
The school board has had the audit/review report for more than a month and a half.
"I certainly hope to make it available to the public in a day or two," board chair Constance Rulka says. "I know I keep saying that, but something always delays its release and that's the best I can do."
The press release announcing Courtice's departure does not say if he is jumping or being pushed from the job. But informed sources, siting the timing of the announcement and the fact the report hasn’t been released, say Courtice may have been asked by the recently-elected school board to leave.
The previous board of trustees gave Courtice a clean bill of health in its review of his position just before school board elections in November.
Rulka wouldn't confirm or deny if Courtice's departure was directly related to the review report.
"We're not making any comment on that," was all Rulka would say.
Pique Newsmagazine has learned that Courtice will stay on until the end of July.
There is also a question of a payout to Courtice to compensate him for his early departure.
"That isn't being discussed yet," Rulka says.
As for how much the payout might be and where the money might come from: "That's something we'll have to work on," Rulka says.
Sources say any payout could equal to a year's salary and would not be paid by the ministry of education, but would come directly from the school board's budget.
Parent advisory committee representatives at the district and local levels are champing at the bit to get some information on the audit and on Courtice’s departure from the school board.
"We were told it would be a public document and we've been asking for it at every school board meeting," says Fran Cuthbert, a representative on the district parents advisory committee.
As for the Courtice situation, "We're quite disappointed and as surprised as anyone else is," Cuthbert says.
She wants the parents advisory committee to be on any selection committee for a new superintendent. "That was the case when the school board hired Doug Courtice, but they're not indicating they will do the same this time."
Concern about how the school board will select a replacement for Courtice taps into Cuthbert's doubts about board openness on other matters.
"My personal opinion is that they're making quite a few decisions on issues in closed meetings" that should be in public sessions, Cuthbert says.
As for a potential payout to Courtice, "where's it going to come from?" Cuthbert says. "If it comes from operations, it will take a lot of resources from students."
The reasons why Courtice is leaving the school board "should be public once it is signed and agreed to," Cuthbert says.
"It was a total surprise," says Debbie Smythe, a local parents advisory committee representative, of the Courtice announcement. "The circumstances are quite a mystery. I assumed that when the last board indicated Courtice had a clean bill of health, therefore there were no problems."
Any payout by the board will come at the expense of the students, Smythe says. "There's not a school in this district that's not crying for supplies."
That the school board hasn't released the review report also bothers Smythe. "I'm someone who's very much in favour of a more open process. Except for personnel issues, anything else should be open for us to make a comment on or to be a witness to."
"I'm very anxious to see it," says Alex Miller, president of the Howe Sound Teachers Association. "I felt we were instrumental in bringing it about."
The teachers association originally wanted a triumvirate from the education ministry to undertake the school board review, but had to be satisfied with the board's decision to pick Graham McKinnon from the B.C. School Trustees Association.
Miller is hopeful that once the review is released to the public, it will clear the air for the school district's future.
"I'm optimistic that any difficulties that existed in the past can be set aside," Miller says.