April 22, 2016 - 2:30 PM
SALMON ARM - The appointment of a special advisor to review the inner workings of the North Okanagan-Shuswap Board of Education is a relatively rare move from the provincial government.
Liz Watson, the person tasked with reviewing the school board over the next month, is the eighth such individual appointed by the Ministry of Education over the past 14 years.
Information provided by the Ministry of Education shows special advisors are appointed for a variety of reasons. Most recently, a special advisor was appointed in 2015 to assist the Vancouver School District in balancing its budget. In 2014 and 2015, an advisor was sent to the New Westminster School District to review financial practices and make recommendations for deficit reduction. Back in 2010, an advisor was tasked with assisting the Vancouver School District in achieving a balanced budget, and in 2008 an appointment was made to investigate the Cowichan Valley School District on a range of issues.
In 2004 the Kootenay Lake School District was reviewed on education, financial and community matters, and in 2003, the Kootenay-Columbia School District was inspected and evaluated on student achievement, educational services and board operations. In 2002, an advisor was sent to the Gold Trail School District to inspect operating budget allocations, the district’s debt retirement plan and levels of student achievement.
According to an announcement this week from the Ministry of Education, Watson’s review of School District 83 will look at governance practices, board relationships with district management and external stakeholders, board accountability, budgeting processes and capital planning. The school board has been under intense pressure in recent months after parents discovered $10.5 million in surpluses were transferred from the operating budget into capital funds, which were then used to construct a new board office.
Watson is president and CEO of Watson Inc. of Vancouver and has more than 30 years experience as a lawyer and more than a decade as a leading advisor to boards, committees and CEOs. She tells iNFOnews.ca she has done some work with school districts and trustees in the past but has never reviewed one in the role of a special advisor.
Watson says she will visit the school district in person in the coming days, look over documents and speak with various people to learn about the situation.
“We just take a look at how things have been done and see if there are ways improvements can be made,” she says.
While relatively uncommon in school districts, Watson says these types of reviews are common in other areas of the public sector.
“A lot of services today are provided through entities governed by a board, which is either appointed or elected, so the whole line of accountability depends on having good governance,” Watson says.
Watson will deliver her report to the Ministry of Education by May 20. The school board will have to respond to the report with an action plan.
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