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North Okanagan-Shuswap trustee says fired school board was given 'impossible task'

School District 83 Board of Education: Back row- Barry Chafe, Chris Coers, Michel Saab, Bobbi Johnson, Bob Fowler. Front - Larissa Lutjen, Kelly Rowe, Jenn Wilchuk and Debbie Evans.
Image Credit: School District 83
June 16, 2016 - 6:30 PM

NORTH OKANAGAN - Trustees in the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District are speaking out after getting fired by the province over loss of confidence and money management concerns.

The firing was the first of 42 recommendations made in special advisor Liz Watson’s report on School District 83. The review came on the heels of three trustees resigning and a public outcry over the transfer of roughly $10.5 million from the operating budget to capital funds over the last five years. contacted all nine school trustees for their response, but so far only two have commented.

“I feel the trustees were put under the bus,” says an emotional Debbie Evans, the trustee for Falkland, Ranchero and Deep Creek.

She feels the Watson Report unfairly represents the board and disagrees the community lost complete confidence in trustees.

“We are nine individuals who worked hard for our communities,” Evans says.

She says the special advisor never observed the board working as a whole and feels they were misrepresented.

“She never saw the dynamics of us working together,” Evans says, adding they were each interviewed separately and no board meetings were attended by the advisor. “We were not dysfunctional.”

As for the transfer of roughly $10.5 million in surpluses, which were in part used to pay for a new board office, Evans says she was not aware of how the money was being moved and wishes it had been used to support students.

Instead of appointing former Surrey School District superintendent Mike McKay to serve in place of the board, Evans believes the province should have allowed for a byelection so the community could vote in a new board.

“I have a concern there’s no longer community voices sitting at the table,” Evans says.

North Shuswap trustee Larissa Lutjen is also disappointed with the province’s decision and says the board was not as dysfunctional as the report made it out to be.

“To me, our biggest problem was we were struggling with not enough money and the government’s expectation of certain capacity levels at schools, and it was an impossible job to do. We were sort of falling apart because we were given such an impossible job,” Lutjen says.

Yesterday, the province announced a new Rural Education Enhancement Fund to help keep schools open, but Lutjen says it is too little, too late.

“It’s very ironic the very day we’re dismissed, money comes in for rural schools, which is one of the things we struggled with the most,” Lutjen says.

She’s also concerned about local representation being missed while McKay takes the reigns. His contract is for one year and could be extended even longer.

“I think some of the communities who’ve been lobbying us are probably worried today because there’s a real distance with an appointed trustee who’s not even from the area, and with one single trustee I’m definitely worried about the local representation being gone,” Lutjen says.

She wants the community to know she appreciated the chance to represent her area.

“I’m really sorry it ended this way,” she says.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016
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