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One year later: How things are going with North Okanagan-Shuswap's one man school board

Official School District 83 trustee Mike McKay
June 20, 2017 - 9:00 PM

NORTH OKANAGAN - It’s been a year since controversy swirled in the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District, leading to the firing of the board of education and the appointment of a single, official trustee.

Mike McKay was hired by the provincial government in June 2016 to take over the duties of the board. Former board members were dismissed by the province following an outcry over transferred funds and a damning report from special advisor Liz Watson. At the time, Education Minister Mike Bernier said McKay would be in place for at least a year.

Despite some preliminary concerns in the community about how a “one man board” would work, it appears things are running smoothly and McKay is expected to remain until the regularly scheduled local election in October 2018.

Kari Wilkinson, president of the District Parent Advisory Council, says they have a good working relationship with McKay and appreciate being able to meet with him and other partner groups on a monthly basis.

“I would say as a DPAC, we are very pleased with his level of transparency and his leadership and the openness he’s brought to the district in terms of how we are moving forward,” Wilkinson says.

READ MORE: North Okanagan-Shuswap school board fired due to lack of confidence, money management

As an example, she says partner groups were able to have an open and honest discussion with McKay about how to divvy up surplus funds from the budget.

“He makes his decisions based on what is best for the school district as a whole in the long run. He’s making sustainable decisions that keep our kids at the forefront,” Wilkinson says.

She says the most contentious issue this year was grade restructuring in Enderby.

“I think there was a lot of opportunity for true community engagement and communication that went on between Mike, central staff and the parents in the community to come up with a hybrid solution. It doesn’t satisfy everybody, but I think it does a pretty good job of addressing the core problems in a manner that met with most peoples’ approval.”

Yet, there is still some lingering distrust amongst communities, Wilkinson says.

“It’s a work in progress. It’s not something that will be repaired overnight,” she says. “Hopefully over the next couple of years, parents will have their trust restored in the district.”

She’s in support of McKay staying until a new board is elected in 2018.

“A byelection would cost money. As parents, we want every dollar we have going into student programming. If this is working, it makes sense to hold off,” she says.

For his part, McKay is happy to stay the course.

“My commitment when I was asked to do this, Minister Bernier at the time said let’s make this an initial one year, but also be sure that if things are moving to the benefit of the school district, that you are prepared to continue to 2018,” McKay says. “A few months ago he reaffirmed this was rolling beyond the one year mark.”

The former Armstrong teacher, Surrey School District superintendent, and official trustee for the Cowichan Valley currently lives on the Coast and travels regularly to the North Okanagan-Shuswap to fulfill his duties as official trustee.

“I appreciated right from the start peoples’ openness and willingness to work together and move forward,” he says.

One of his focusses has been tackling the 41 remaining recommendations from the Watson report. Tthe first recommendation was to dissolve the board.

“I think we’re well on our way,” he says. “In some cases, we have done what’s necessary, and in others it’s a work in progress. Some (of the recommendations) are in the purview of the provincial government.”

One of the recommendations is to review the number of trustees prior to the next election. Currently, there are nine, but that could be reduced to seven.

Another priority has been developing a new strategic plan for the district.

“The community has been very involved,” McKay says. “The strategic plan identifies priorities and activates some specific actions. It will give us a good weather vane and road map, but is not so locked in that we can’t be flexible.”

He admits the job isn’t all “fairy dust and roses” — there are difficult decisions to be made and financial resources are limited.

“When it’s over I will have had a fulfilling experience and a challenging experience,” McKay says.

The North Okanagan Shuswap Teachers Association declined a request for an interview.

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 © iNFOnews, 2017

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