Blueberry school hosts unprecedented controversy
Long-brewing contention at Blueberry Creek Community School Hub reached a boiling point Wednesday night, when a large group of parents were denied membership in the non-profit society and, thus, access to its annual general meeting (which has, in the past, been open to the public).
The meeting, held in the school gymnasium, was open only to members, and two security guards were on hand to prevent anyone else from attending (the three non-members allowed to attend as ‘invited guests’ were this reporter and Castlegar city councillors Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff and Florio Vassilakakis).
Before the meeting began, the people not allowed to attend were forced to leave the property altogether.
Only 28 people (aside from the board, the accountant and the security guards) were ultimately allowed in the room.
No one took minutes at the meeting – attendees were asked to write any questions down and submit them to the board – and there was no board chair. Board member Jen Carter facilitated the meeting.
Accountant Ron Anderson, of Grant Thornton (formerly Yule Anderson), presented the society’s unaudited financial statements, and indicated the society has gone from a deficit in 2015 of $29,333 to a surplus of $20,207 in 2016.
“Based on our review, nothing has come to our attention that causes us to believe that these financial statements are not, in all material respects, in accordance with Canadian accounting standards for not-for-profit organizations,” said a letter from Grant Thornton at the top of the presentation.
The financials were followed by a speech from Jen Carter, in which she set out some of the complaints being levied against the board in letters to the media, and refuted claims including: that the majority of the staff has quit; that criminal record checks have not been properly administered; that child/adult ratios are below acceptable levels, and; that grant monies have been used inappropriately.
“A small group of parents has been criticizing the way in which the board dealt with the society’s financial crisis in 2015 and the staffing changes that occurred as a result of the financial crisis,” Carter said. “We suspect these few parents are basing their views on incorrect information originating from two former employees at BCCS … We do not want to debate our decisions and actions publically with that group or to justify our decisions and actions to them.”
The conversation rapidly became more heated when Carter acknowledged that the board did, in fact, deny membership to parents of students attending BCSS.
“We received whole sheaves of applications written in the same handwriting, and they weren’t signed, so we turned them down,” she said, indicating the board deemed said applications to be “hostile”.
“We are under threat. We have undergone a whole series of attacks.”
“Things are different this year, because it’s the first year we’ve owned the building … We don’t want to offend any more than we have to, but we’ve done what we felt was necessary.”
Despite the disenchanted parents being forced from the premises, an RCMP officer arrived during the proceedings, and BCCS executive director Rebecca McDonnell, who was in the building, declined to attend the meeting, although she had been scheduled to make a presentation.
“Unfortunately, because of the disruption outside, Rebecca can’t be here,” Carter said.
Carter went on to explain that nominations to run for the board would not be accepted from the floor – those who wanted to stand for election had to submit applications and be subject to interviews by the board to determine whether they would, “add to our skill set and be able to help us move forward and keep Blueberry as an entity in our community”.
She said four people applied, but as the board felt three of the four had a conflict of interest, only one was allowed to stand for office.
Because there were only six board seats, this process left five board members (all of whom sought re-election) and one nominee – all of whom were not elected, but rather affirmed in their seats by acclimation.
Carter said next year, nominations would be open to the entire membership.
“For one year, we are asking you to trust us,” she said. “You have to trust that our best interests are the same as yours.”