The board of education for Comox Valley Schools needs a new chair.
Ian Hargreaves, chosen last fall to chair the board, stepped down both as chair and trustee for Area C (Puntledge/Black Creek) of the Comox Valley Regional District at a meeting on Sept. 1. The meeting, held at Mark. R. Isfeld Secondary, had trustees sitting socially distanced at tables.
“My chair’s report tonight is going to be a little different,” Hargreaves said near the outset of the meeting.
He said he felt it is the board’s job to explain something if the public does not understand some aspect of board procedures, then cited a number of emails recently indicating many people did not understand policy around holding public board meetings.
Specifically, the issue surrounded his decision to end the last meeting on Aug. 20 concerning back-to-school plans at 9 p.m., which he said is board policy, unless all trustees agree to extend a meeting.
The reason, he said, is the policy prevents trustees from making “decision by exhaustion” when meetings run late. He added that the board could reconvene the following day for further discussion.
Hargreaves was candid in his criticism of members of the board trying to change the policy out of consideration for their political futures or for their own agendas. At that point, he tendered his resignation as chair and trustee, saying, “It has been an honour to serve School District 71 and this community for the past 38 years, first as a teacher and then as a trustee.”
It had become clear, he said, during the past year his vision for the board was not consistent with that of a majority of trustees. He also criticized board members for ignoring staff advice or leaving public meetings when a vote did not go their way. This friction has taken its toll on his health and resignation was his only option. He added he had spoken with the Minister of Education about his decision.
“This has caused me great distress and stress,” he said. “This board is dysfunctional and has lost its focus…. The problem is not at the board office but at the board table.”
As Hargreaves left the meeting, trustee Janice Caton made a motion for the board to go in camera for 10 minutes to discuss its next step. Boards of education and other local government bodies are typically limited to discussing land, legal or labour issues in camera.
“I think that as a board, we need to go in camera and have a conversation,” she said.
The majority agreed, so the board convened in another room for a little over 10 minutes. When they returned, vice-chair Tonia Frawley took over as chair of the meeting.
Staff said they will have more information at the next meeting on the process of going to byelection to fill the vacancy on the board. As well, board members will have to determine whether to wait until November when they usually choose the chair and vice-chair for the year or fill these positions before that time.