Calling this a “go forward moment,” School District 83's new, official trustee Mike McKay met with the media Monday to outline his plans for the North Okanagan Shuswap area. “I'm excited to engage and to hopefully make a difference.”
McKay said schools would be open in September, as planned, and that the deferred decisions to close Armstrong Elementary and Silver Creek Elementary in Salmon Arm “would stay in place.”
He suggested the government's new Rural Education Enhancement Fund “may have some implications” for those schools. The fund recognizes the challenges in keeping rural schools open.
McKay also refused to comment on past decisions of the nine-member school board that was fired last week by the province's education minister.
Some of those decisions outraged parents across the district, led to the appointment of special advisor Liz Watson and, finally, to the dismissal of the trustees.
Contacted by the education ministry “just a few days” before the board was fired, McKay dove right in. He has already met with school administrators and partner groups, including the teachers association (NOSTA) and CUPE.
He has no plans to relocate from the Lower Mainland but will be in and out of the district, will hold public board meetings and will “get out and connect” with individual communities.
“I have committed there will be no surprises.”
Citing his 35 years in B.C.'s education system, McKay revealed he had once worked as a teacher in Armstrong “a long time ago” and had also acted as an official trustee in Cowichan – taking on the role in July 2012.
He admitted that during his time in Cowichan up to six locations were closed, including alternative sites, and there was some amalgamation of grades but he stressed that the board had not passed a balanced budget, as required, and key decisions had been deferred for years.
“(This is) a North Okanagan-Shuswap story. It's not a Cowichan story,” said McKay. “There was a huge amount of catch up (in Cowichan).”
He said the “kids” are his top priority and programming and services for those kids.
McKay said the special adviser's report went into some depth as to what had to be done and he would be guided by that report.
The over 40 recommendations would be categorized as urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not at the top of the priority list and routine. “We will be meeting soon with the senior team.”
The official trustee said he was committed to staying in the position, if necessary, until November, 2018 when a regular school board election is scheduled. Currently, he has a one-year appointment.
Meanwhile, district superintendent Glenn Borthistle said, “it was a tough day” last week when he told trustees they had been dismissed. “I've known these people a long time.”
However Borthistle admitted there had been “a sense of uncertainty in the school district for the last three or four months” and believed there would be more stability in the short term.