Trustees seek legal advice: Can they be fired?

On June 20, the trustees of School District 79 voted to seek an outside legal opinion

On June 20, the trustees of School District 79 voted to seek an outside legal opinion on whether or not it is legal for the provincial government to fire a board, over the restorative budget passed by the board on May 16.

Duncan Brown, a trustee on the board, says that they will have found out the minister’s decision by July 3 or 4.

The legal opinion, which came back to the board on June 28, cites section 172 of the School Act, which states that the Act authorizes the Lieutenant Governor in council to remove elected trustees by appointing one official trustee to govern the board when and if (and these three points were underlined):

There is a substantial non-compliance with this Act or the regulations or any rules or orders made under this Act.

There is substantial non-performance of the duties of the board.

There is a risk to student achievement in the district and it is in the public interest to do so.

“To our knowledge, cabinet has invoked this power three times in the past,” states the document.

The document also quotes a letter sent to the board chair, Eden Haythornthwaite, from Education Minister, George Abbott.

“The School Act requires all boards of education to submit a balanced budget to the ministry by June 30 of this year. I trust the Cowichan Valley Board of Education will conform to its mandate under the act; however, should they not meet its obligations in this regard I will exercise my authority as minister to effect remedy.”

The black and white of this document, is that it states that the minister does have the right to fire the board, however it also states that the board does have a duty to improve student achievement in the school district.

“The Act requires the board to make educational programming available to all persons of school age and provides authority for evaluating that programming to the board.” It goes on to say that the board “must provide to every student instruction sufficient to meet the requirements for graduation and the educational resource materials necessary to participate in the educational program.”

To Brown, this creates a conundrum. “Without the finances, how can we meet those needs?” he asks.

He says he had also hoped that the document would say that there would be more of a process involved in the removal of the board, however, all he, the other trustees, and chair Eden Haythornthwaite do, is wait.