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teachers tiff

School board to get financial look-see By Chris Woodall An independent financial consultant will be brought into the Howe Sound School Board, at the board's request, to go over their books. The decision came out of the Nov. 6 board meeting and is intended to head off concerns coming from the Howe Sound Teachers Association that all is not well financially or organizationally. The consultant was to cost the board $10,000, but when teachers association president Alex Miller asked trustee Laurie Vance at the Whistler all-candidate's forum, Nov. 9, to explain the board's reasoning for this, he was told the board had found a consultant who'd work for free. "We asked in June for a Ministry of Education inquiry" to look into how the board ran the school district, Miller says. "There would be no cost to the board, but the board won't give me any details." There are two parts to the teachers association’s concerns. The first has to do with the Howe Sound district’s unresolved grievances being 20 times the provincial average, according to Miller. The second has to do with school board claims of a large budget shortfall. Miller says the shortfall doesn’t exist. In the case of the outstanding grievances, "we're sorting most of them out," Miller admits. "But it's taking a long time for the board to look at them. "We're both forced to go to arbitration," Miller says, which is a costly procedure. "Where's the money gone to?" Miller asks of a school board announcement that said it was facing a $850,000 shortfall, but then later said there wasn't a shortfall. "$850,000 can't just appear or disappear," he says. The problem for his association lay in wondering if the amount was going to be made up in teacher lay-offs, a shock wave that rippled through his association, Miller says. The board's position is that it will hire an independent consultant to look at the financial and educational programs of the school board simply in response to concerns raised by the teachers association, says trustee Vance. A committee of four trustees has been created to hire the person and set guidelines for the inquiry process, Vance says. "It's important that the consultant be an independent, unbiased person," she says. The board invited the teachers association in June to meet with them to work out their differences, Vance says. Meetings began in September, but after three meetings the board cancelled a further two meetings when the association indicated it didn't want to continue, according to Vance. Miller has a different view of events. "They suggested we have a liaison committee, so we tried it," Miller says. "But we gave up on it when they announced the budget shortfall" without telling the liaison committee that announcement was coming. He says the board was not showing good faith in its communications with the teachers association. Miller doesn't agree that a board-appointed consultant is going to be unbiased. "How can we have faith in an appointed person who'll work for free?" When it is suggested to Miller that the conflicting budget announcements may have been a political game of finance between the school board and the provincial government, the teachers association president says he is baffled. "I really have no idea why. They won't tell me anything."

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