Back to the school board: Governance and communication issues
And homeless campers express concern with a centralized homeless camp
I think we’re nearing the end of the news cycle when it comes to the current school board drama. Let’s start with the new information: Why did trustees Gillian Burnett and Betty Bekkering feel the need to resign, five months into their four year term?
We already had Burnett’s resignation letter in which she referred to a “dysfunctional board that has no understanding of the roles of trustees or good governance” but frankly, I found that sentiment a little vague — was the issue the other members wanted to choose a new logo without consulting the public or something more fundamental like trying to interfere with the curriculum. A subsequent interview with CKPG alongside Bekkering didn’t offer a whole lot more, just comments about the board not working together well.
But a followup interview in the Citizen with Betty Bekkering expanding on those comments, I think, provides more insight, specifically this line:
“They didn't seem interested in learning what the role of the trustee was. They really wanted to concentrate on operations of the school district, which is the jurisdiction of the superintendent. They didn’t seem interested in governance.”
“They” is the four trustees Bekkering describes being on the other side of the divide from herself, Burnett and the still-sitting representative for Robson Valley, Bob Thompson. Bekkering says from the very first meeting she, Burnett and Thompson seemed to be on one side of the board, with Rachael Weber, Corey Antrim, Erica McLean and Craig Brennan on the other.
What’s interesting about this is you essentially have the veterans vs. the newcomers when things are viewed this way. Bekkering had already served two terms on school board, first from 2011 to 2014 then 2018 to 2022 before being re-elected last fall. Thompson had completed his first term and Burnett, though new to the board, was not new to governance, having spent twelve years on District Parent Advisory Council. Weber, on the other hand, was the most experienced person on the other side, having first been elected in January 2022. That said, other newly elected members said in the run-up to the election that they regularly followed meetings and read agendas, so I don’t want to write them off as being completely clueless about their role.
But it is clear that Bekkering and Burnett saw their jobs as trustees as one thing, and felt that other members of the board saw those jobs differently, and Bekkering and Burnett no longer wanted to be a part of that. And as Caden Fanshaw at CKPG points out after going back and watching every meeting this board has had since they were elected, it seems that divide started early:
From the moment Trustees were sworn in November 7, 2022 and the positions of Chair and Vice Chair were filled it was clear there was some sense of division among members of the Board of Education.
Trustee Bob Thompson nominated Trustee Betty Bekkering to serve as Board Chair. Thompson insisted Bekkering was more than qualified as the longest-serving member of the board. New Trustee Erica McLean then nominated Trustee Rachael Weber for Chair.
Weber was ultimately elected, with the official results on how each Trustee voted unclear.
Trustee Cory Antrim nominated Trustee Craig Brennan, and immediately afterwards Bekkering nominated Burnett. Brennan was ultimately voted into the position.
In the past, the appointment of a Board Chair and Vice-Chair has been regularly unopposed with only one person nominated.
The divide came up again at the most recent meeting when Bekkering, Burnett and Thompson voted to formally adopt a suite of new policies that had been in development since 2019 while the other members opted to defer and, presumably — though we don’t know for sure — at last week’s emergency meeting that was held before superintendent Cindy Heitemann “departed” from her role, followed by Burnett and Bekkering. Here’s Bekkering again:
“We were not going to ever defeat this four to three [split]. We're never going to move issues forward… Knowing we are going to beat our heads against a brick wall to keep on for three-and-a-half years into the future - it just looked like a bleak desert to me.”
I’ll be honest: I haven’t watched every meeting (you can here, if you want). I did go back and watch part of that February 28 meeting where they disagreed on adopting the policies (you can here, at 32 minutes in) and it didn’t seem that heated to me. Certainly nothing that, on its own, would make me think this is a board headed for breakup. But here we are.
What does this mean for students?
Honestly, probably not much in the short term, and potentially the long term. Regardless of how much any individual board or board members may want to get involved in the education of students, curriculums are set by the province and teachers follow that. Boards are several steps removed from the day-to-day operations at schools, though they do set budgetary priorities and have a role to play in approving non-core curriculum (for example, approving extra language courses that might be relevant to the local community). But we’ve seen several examples around B.C. of candidates running saying they are going to change this or that about how classrooms work only to discover they don’t have that power.
That said, if you’re a potential superintendant or principal or teacher thinking about where you want to work, you might think twice about accepting a role in a city that seems to have so much turmoil at an upper level. So it’s not great, either.
Will the province do anything?
I’ve seen this asked and I mean, probably not. The ministry of education has been asked about this whole situation and has had a succint response:
As the employer, school boards are responsible for making local personnel decisions.
The Ministry of Education and Child Care’s focus is supporting SD57 School Board to ensure students and staff in the district have a safe, supportive and stable learning environment.
Translation: This isn’t our jurisdiction. And as dysfunctional as you might think things seem in Prince George, trust me, it’s been far worse elsewhere — notably, Chilliwack for the last four years. And even then, the province moved very, very slowly.
Plus, the province already has an advisory committee appointed to work with the Prince George school board on governance issues who are providing reports every two months. They are supposed to table a final report this summer and… I mean… that will be pretty interesting to read, but until then, don’t expect provincial intervention — and maybe not even after that, either.
And what about transparency?
It is low-key hilarious that My Prince George Now has adopted this sign from the school board office as its thumbnail for every story on the school board, including this one:
In his CKPG TV report this week, Caden Fanshaw had a section where he called up the board chair Rachael Weber and got her answering machine as the voiceover said this has been the result every time they’ve tried to reach her for comment for weeks now. Other outlets have said the same. While hypothetically other board members are their own elected officials and could break the silence, they aren’t, deferring instead to Weber as board chair. And she ain’t talking. I guess we can see how long she holds out on that position.
The real weeds
I feel like that’s all the high-level stuff but there are lots other odds and ends, if you really want to get into it. Here they are:
The North Central Labour Council has blasted the school board for not condemning comments from speaker Josh Silva (reminder of what that’s all about here).
The SD57 District Parent Advisory Councils (DPAC )released a lengthy statement about the resignations and the departure of supertintendent Heitemann.
A letter writer blasts the DPAC for their statement, arguing it looks like they are siding with a former member (Burnett) over something they should have stayed out of, noting they have stayed silent for far more controversial events, like an anti-trans speaker coming to town.
Another letter writer blasts the remaining board members for staying silent and not explaining or defending any of their decisions.
A commenter points out that the prayer that opened a recent school board meeting (a smaller portion of the overall controversys taht have been going on) does appear to have been Christian, regardless of whether it was written by the McLeod Lake Indian Band or not (you may recall board chair Weber got upset at the local union president for saying meetings shouldn’t open with Christian prayers without acknolwedging it came from the Band).
Is that it? I think that’s it.Life in Prince George is interesting because you’re needing to pay attention to the drama at SD57, but also the City Council meetings
Centralized camp concerns
This letter to the editor, I expect, captures the feelings of a lot of folks in the Millar Addition over the decision to make Moccasin Flats the one-and-only spot where overnight shelters are allowed. But you know who else has concerns? People who are homeless. I went to the 1st Ave. encampment yesterday morning and asked a group of people there how they felt about the news and a small argument ensued — two of the people speaking to me didn’t like the idea because they believed Mocassin Flats to be too big and dangerous and preferred the quiet of Millennium Park, while the third felt it was fine. Over at Moccasin Flats there was only one person around and they told me the idea made sense but they worried about what an influx of people would mean, noting he seemed to have more in common with the residents of the Millar Addition at this point, worried about homeless people moving in. This interview on CBC Daybreak North captures a lot of the differnt concerns expressed, primarily that vulnerable people may be bigger targets if there’s only one place they can go and also noting that the city hasn’t exactly made things easy for people who are trying to live their lives in Moccasin Flats thus far. Here’s my write-up on the situation in a more formal way than yesterday.
A lot of council catchup and some other good stuff for you:
Judge rules ‘non’ to Prince George club’s English-speaking owner request to have trial in French to fight COVID-19 tickets.
Prince George Playhouse ‘not safe,’ Coldsnap Festival says, after wall nearly fell on performer.
The Kodiaks Football Club is hoping to get more seating for its game.
And a nice little feature on a piece of public art in the Gateway.
13 acres of riverfront property a 30 minutes northeast of Prince George could be yours for $55,000.
More on the Hydra Energy hydrogen refueling plant that’s been approved for Sintich Road.
More on the changes to Freedom of Information requests proposed at city hall.
The B.C. government has approved an LNG plant in northwest B.C. that would be supplied by Coastal GasLink.
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