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school audit

Sch. bd. defaults on making info public system audit press release reveals little, leaves major questions unanswered By Chris Woodall Despite repeated previous assurances from the Howe Sound School Board, the public will not get access to a report detailing a system review of the school board's finances and operations. "We're not releasing the report," says board chair Constance Rulka. "Sorry about that, but that's the way it is." The school board got the report Jan. 21, but took more than a month before issuing a sparse two-page press release Feb. 28. What was issued to newspapers and radio outlets isn't of much use — a Squamish River salmon carcass has more meat on its bones. The report says 13 broad areas such as payroll, budget, aboriginal education, communication, etc. "may need attention" by the school board to correct problems. But the school board does not say in the release what specifically requires attention, why something needs attention, or how the report investigator came to those conclusions. Graham McKinnon is the investigator. He was hand-picked by the board from the ranks of the B.C. School Trustees Association. He is the association's associate executive director. The press release does not say how the investigator gathered his information, from who, or representing what groups. It says only that the investigator interviewed "148 people." The press release does not say how much the process is going to cost Howe Sound School Board taxpayers. Rulka had repeatedly said the report would be available to the public once the school board had a chance to see it. "I certainly hope to make it public in a day or two," Rulka said three days before the bare bones press release was issued. "I know I keep saying that, but … that's the best I can do." Rulka now says the press release is all that will be released to the public. "That's all we're releasing. I don't think there's anything that's not in the press release. I think this is sufficient." Rulka claims the board of trustees is now creating "action plans" to deal with the report's accusations. "There won't be any answers until we deal with the action plans." But why the board feels it has to create action plans, and what the report said to make the board feel that way, are to be kept from the public. Parent advisory committee (PAC) representatives are being kept in the dark, too. No PAC reps reached by Pique Newsmagazine had seen a copy of the press release, much less a full copy of the report. "It's difficult to determine what any of the findings of McKinnon are," says Dick Gibbons once he was faxed a copy of the press release by Pique Newsmagazine. "This is so general and obtuse." Gibbons is president of the Whistler Secondary Parents Advisory Committee. "I can't think of any reason why we shouldn't have full access to this report, with the possible exception of specific matters about specific personnel," Gibbons says. The board has stumbled badly on this issue, Gibbons suggests. "The report may not be all positive from the board's point of view, but the public should know what's in the report," Gibbons says. "It lets all of us think the problems are a lot worse." Even the Howe Sound Teachers Association has not seen the report, despite being instrumental in forcing the board to undertake the operations review in the first place. "I didn't even get a press release," says Alex Miller, president of the teachers association. "I did get to see a copy from a school principal. The information seemed contradictory. The first page says there are problems, but the second page says things are okay. "It's not enough," Miller says. The first part looks like a mandate of things the investigator will look at rather than a series of findings, Miller says. "This is not very helpful information. It's a nothing kind of statement. It doesn't tell us anything." Miller is not impressed that the school board couldn't be bothered sending the teachers association a copy of the press release, much less that it didn't send the association a copy of the full report. "It's obvious the board is not intending to release the full report, but they said they were going to," Miller observes. "If it was an oversight, it's not a very good oversight." While he acknowledges that the school board is saying that elements of the report touch on personnel matters and are therefore rightly confidential, "I could have got the report in confidence if the board had a problem with the personnel issues," Miller says. "It's part of my job to know the salaries" of teachers and other staff, Miller says of his role at the teacher-school board negotiating table. He is not impressed that the board is so secretive when it was the teachers association that pressed for the review. "If at the end of the day (the report says) there are problems, the public have a right to know that," Miller says. "We know there were problems, that's why we asked to have the review done."

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