School board chair absents from vote

Local school board chair Ken Clarkson absented from voting on the district’s staffing budget at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

However, some of his fellow trustees questioned wether he should have removed himself from the budget process entirely.

Clarkson’s son is a substitute teacher with the district and works “around five days a month” at local schools.

According to the School Act, a trustee is considered in conflict of interest if they have a child who has a financial interest in a matter before the board.

Acting on previous legal advice, Clarkson absented from voting on the portion of the district’s budget that pertained to staffing.

However, trustee Mike Huber questioned the timing of the declaration, asking if it would be more appropriate for trustees to declare their conflict at the beginning of the process, rather than the end.

“It seems a little bit backwards, from the point that if you have a conflict, you would declare it before you’re involved in the process and remove yourself from the entire process,” he said.

Clarkson was the chair of the board’s committee of the whole, which deliberated on the staffing budget.

The School Act states that a trustee who declares a conflict “must not take part in any discussion of or vote on any question in respect to the matter.”

Trustee Dave Rempel said that every trustee, including Clarkson, had an influence on the budget proceedings. However, after the meeting, Rempel said he saw no direct linkage between the budget and Clarkson’s son’s position.

In the past, both Huber and Rempel have opted not to vote on the budget’s staffing portion, as both had spouses employed by the district.

In response to Huber’s query, secretary treasurer Wayne Jefferson said it was the personal decision of each trustee as to when they declare a conflict of interest, and that Clarkson’s actions were consistent with legal advice from the B.C. School Trustees Association.

After the meeting, Clarkson said he didn’t believe his situation constituted a conflict of interest.

The School Act states that conflict of interest would not apply if the “pecuniary interest of the trustee … is so remote or insignificant in its nature that it cannot reasonably be regarded as likely to influence the trustee.”

However, Clarkson said he opted to err on the side of caution and absent from the vote, as he did the past two years, so as not jeopardize the work of trustees and staff.

Trustee Stepan Vdovine said Huber had a valid point, and stressed the need for the province and the BCSTA to provide clearer guidelines for trustees.