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NWSS PAC passes non-confidence motion in board, administration

New Westminster secondary's parent advisory council (PAC) has passed a motion of non-confidence in the board of education and its senior administration for their handling of district finances.

The motion said with the district having its third deficit in 11 years—the latest $2.8 million—it's time for the education ministry and the auditor-general to step in.

PAC chair Mary Ann McKenzie said the non-confidence motion is targeting the fiscal management of the district, not the delivery of education. She said there must be a systemic flaw in the way finances are being handled.

"We're not trying to undermine the democratic process at all, and not trying to point specific fingers, but we are calling for immediate guidance from the senior level of government to identify the systemic problems," said McKenzie on Friday. "By not saying something we are accepting the status quo."

Last week, the district hired consultant Joan Axford to investigate what went wrong and formulate a plan to recover the deficit.

"We just don't feel it's going to be enough," said McKenzie.

She said if the district is monitoring its finances it should be able to anticipate financial problems, noting the district said in late June it would have a balanced budget, yet two months later declared a large deficit.

"It shouldn't come as a surprise. A business would not operate that way," said McKenzie. "It's obvious something is not working."

The motion was emailed to trustees and senior administration after the meeting, and a letter dropped off at the district office. Formal letters petitioning help from the ministry and the auditor-general are also being sent out.

It was also on the agenda of the district PAC meeting on Monday.

"What I'm pleased about is there are other voices taking part in the conversation. What chair McKenzie said was they could no longer stay silent. That's the important part. What it will do now is force the other PACs in the district to no longer stay silent, they will have to take a position now," said DPAC chair Rob Peregoodoff, who said he would step down on Monday due to work, school and family commitments. "This is a direct consequence of the lack of ability to attend to this in a timely manner. Had the district been forthright and transparent with the problems in September and October … we wouldn't have gotten to this state."

Board chair James Janzen said the district has taken steps to deal with the deficit by hiring Axford, and the ministry has said it wouldn't be getting any more involved. But Janzen acknowledges parents have a right to be upset.

"I can understand why they're disappointed, we're all disappointed with what's happened with the budget," said Janzen. "That's justified. Hopefully we can get things back on track."

Janzen said Axford started last week so it was unlikely she would be able to provide any information to the board at the finance committee meeting Tuesday. It's more probable she'd have a preliminary report when the board meets either Nov. 27 or Dec. 4.

"We can't expect her to have all the answers right away," said Janzen, one of four labour-supported trustees on the board.

Lisa Graham, who is in her fourth term and is one of the three Voice New Westminster trustees, supports the PAC's call for help from above.

"It's a logical response to the current situation. I fully concur that we need the auditor-general in here," said Graham. "I have tremendous faith in the auditor-general. The best intervention this district ever had was the auditor-general when they came in with the business company. (Parents) want some definitive action from someone who has the knowledge and expertise in these matters. I understand that. I want it too … Our track record on finances is less than stellar."

Peregoodoff said some have suggested waiting until after the next provincial election in May to seek action, but he maintained politics should not play a role in this. Waiting until spring "is absolutely a mistake," he said. "These are not political problems these are bureaucratic problems."

A spokeswoman for the auditor-general's office said requests come in all the time, frequently from MLAs and government ministries, and Auditor-General John Doyle assesses each individually before deciding to proceed.

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