Finances, contracts debated at meeting

School board trustee candidates squared off Monday night at the Clarke Theatre

School district spending and perceived bloat on the administration end of school district 75 were top of mind concerns from the public at Monday night’s trustee all-candidate meeting.

Those vying for a seat faced about 120 people at the Clarke Theatre in one of the first trustee all-candidates meetings.

Candidates were asked what they would do different than the previous board, given the financial position in which the district finds itself, and relations between administration and the unions.

Incumbent Randy Cairns took the question first, noting he doesn’t know of any “horrible relations” between the groups, and that on the finance side, given the school district is only allotted a certain amount of money from the provincial government, SD75 has to deal with what it’s sent.

“I find it difficult to speak on this, but I’ve seen the budget and the funding is given by the province. You can’t argue the numbers,” said Nancy Arcand.

Incumbent Carol Hamilton said the district has been doing “the best we can with the limitations that we have.” Regarding staff, Hamilton said she’s open to hearing personally from any residents about concerns with employees.

There was a $1 million surplus in 2007, said Bernadine Babuik, and “after years of consistent overspending, we’re now in our second consecutive deficit.”

Part of the reason for that is revenue overestimates, she said, and this makes balancing a budget difficult.

A number of unexpected items such as busing and funding for special needs students contributed to a deficit this year, said incumbent board chair Cindy Miller.

“We have a four-year repayment plan and there will be no deficit this year.”

Jim Taylor said he sees “an appalling lack of transparency,” which has made it difficult to obtain the information with which to form an action plan, but he stated that too much money is being spent on procedure.

“We keep hearing about declining enrolment,” said Edie Woodland-Lissimore, “but we keep hiring more people in the board office.”

The panel was asked whose decision they felt it should have been to negotiate superintendent Frank Dunham’s contract, the current or incoming board, with many candidates stating the new group should have.

Miller said the contract is “renewed on a timeline and there is not a lot of latitude.” She also dismissed a claim about a pay raise, saying Dunham hadn’t received an uptick in salary since 2009.

Karen Wootten said if elected she would take a hard look at the financial statements and re-evaluate any items she felt were unreasonable.

Brian Harvey said the school district funds have been mismanaged, using last year’s trip by 23 teachers and administrators to Baltimore to study middle schools as an example.

“This has all happened under the present board’s watch,” he said.

“The new board will have to examine all the contracts,” said Earl Babich. “Expenditures should go to students, not administration.”

One of the final questions related to policy 11, adopted by the board in 2009, and asked the panel whether they would rescind it. The policy grants the superintendent certain powers “to do any act or thing or exercise any power that the board may do … except those matters which, in accordance with provincial legislation, cannot be delegated.”

Babich said “the superintendent should not have the same power as the board. That policy would be rescinded.”

Harvey said all final decisions should be made by the board, while Woodland-Lissimore said she would “definitely get rid of the policy.”

To the statement that the board has given away its power through this policy, Miller said she “didn’t recall ever giving away our power.”

The meeting was sponsored by the Mission Business and Professional Women’s Club, Mission Regional Chamber of Commerce and The Mission Record.