There was definitely some tension in the air at the Okanagan Skaha School Board meeting Monday evening as the trustees prepared to deal with a controversial motion brought forward by two of their number.
The school board’s regular meetings usually run smoothly, but this one broke down into a shouting match at one point as trustee Tom Siddon called for a point of privilege, contesting the timing and appropriateness of input from superintendent Wendy Hyer.
Hyer was objecting to a motion brought forward by Siddon and fellow trustee Dave Perry to prevent what they call “double-dipping;” that the school district amend its fiscal policy to disallow any retiree from senior administrative staff to be hired back unless they were willing to decline their full retirement pension for the duration.
Siddon, however, didn’t raise his point of privilege until Hyer had finished her prepared statement. He contested whether Hyer — a staff member — should be allowed to speak, even at the invitation of board chair Ginny Manning, before all trustees had a chance for input.
Hyer’s statement included legal advice from the B.C. School Trustees Association that the proposed amendment could be considered discriminatory. She also included the definition of “double-dipping.”
“Having two sources of income is not double-dipping, unless the two sources are compensating the person for the same thing,” said Hyer. “Pension income is an earned benefit that is compensation for past service. Employment income or contract income is compensation for current service. This is not double dipping.”
Siddon exploded, interrupting Hyer and shouted for a point of privilege, reducing the table to temporary chaos.
“Staff should not intercede in a roundtable debate amongst trustees until they have all been heard and it is most inappropriate to have this intercession” said Siddon. “It’s not clarification, it’s a political speech prepared by the superintendent. She starts the speech by saying she wants to speak against the motion.”
When trustee Connie Denesiuk interrupted with an intercession of her own, moving a motion of support for the chair, Siddon refused to slow.
“If you want to have a showdown, we will have a vote right now. If the chair is sustained, it’s over, but the basis on which this motion is brought will be debated in the public arena,” said Siddon, one of a number of trustees, including Perry, who are not running for re-election.
The reason for this motion being brought forward, Siddon said, is not because retired people can’t work at another job. Rather, he said, it’s to do with the lack of openness and competition for the job of superintendent when Gary Doi retired in 2007 and was rehired almost immediately under contract.
While former superintendent Doi (who retired again in 2009) was often used as an example, especially by Siddon, Perry seemed to have a different view of why they were bringing forward their motion.
“This is not something that is a hangover from the election campaign of 2008, as some might suggest,” Perry said. “But it is a subject that came up as recently as September of this year at a closed, in-camera meeting where there was discussion about a personnel member wanting to pursue the same kind of direction that had been pursued previously in the district.”
Perry admits it wasn’t likely such a controversial motion would pass, but said the motion wasn’t politically motivated. Rather, he was disappointed the issue came up again.
“It didn’t take a genius to realize that it probably wouldn’t pass. I think the public needed to be aware that this was still an issue,” said Perry, who wasn’t in attendance at the September in-camera meeting where the possible rehiring of retired senior staff was discussed. Siddon was, though Manning and other trustees say his belief that “there was a proposal made and it was left on the table” is mistaken.
Manning said that while rehiring retirees was explored, they were just doing due diligence in exploring possibilities, as allowed under policy guidelines introduced in June. However, no formal proposals were made and the issue was dropped, she said, citing her impression that the trustees felt this was not the way to go.
“There was no resolution or recommendation that came forward from that closed meeting. Nothing was settled on,” said Manning. “I think this motion has been carefully framed as double dipping, which has all sorts of connotations. This issue isn’t about double-dipping, but about having the best and the brightest people available.”
Denesiuk summed up her objections to the Perry-Siddon motion, sharing concerns also expressed by the other board members. The motion ultimately failed, with a 3-3 tie being broken by Manning, who voted against it.
“This being my last board meeting, I have no intention of changing the way I have done things and I have no intention of tying the hands of the board as I go out the door. I fail to see how this proposed motion will improve education for our students,” she said. “Hiring the best person for the job has always been my goal and I hope that will be the goal for the next board. The proposed motion will not save our district even a dime if implemented.”
In addition to similar objections, trustee Linda van Alphen was also concerned about the tone of the motion and some of the discussion.
“I think that it is extremely unfair for people who are around this table in trustee positions to come at our staff in the way that our senior staff has been attacked in the last little while, from Gary Doi to Dave Stigant and all the way through,” said Van Alphen. “These are people that are highly respected, very professional people that have spent their whole life in the education systems. I feel like saying, how dare people do this.”
Siddon believes “there was a proposal made and it was left on the table” at that meeting. That’s what drove him to back the motion, in hopes of bringing both the issue and the position of his fellow trustees to the public.
“It’s important that member around the table declare themselves,” he said.