School trustees defend vehicle policy

School district to review policy after DPAC express concerns about expense and use of district vehicles.

The school district will be forming a committee to review its vehicle policy after the District Parent Advisory Council expressed concerns about the expense and use of school district vehicles.

“We are going to be looking into this, into the contracts and what’s included and things like that,” said board chair Bobbi Johnson at the May 12 school board meeting.

In April, the DPAC took the board to task, saying many school board vehicles are too extravagant for the need, are not properly identified as school district property and are being used inappropriately for personal purposes.

“F150 Platinum Ford trucks at a cost of $60,000 for management personnel are not necessary. Small commuter vehicles economical on fuel should suffice for getting staff around our district. Further, SD83 vehicles should not be available for personal use on weekends and or vacations to haul boats or trailers with,” says the DPAC report.

The issue struck a nerve with some trustees, who took the opportunity at the board meeting to share their views.

North Shuswap trustee Larissa Lutjen said the criticism over this issue was overblown in comparison to its financial impact. She said the purchase of eight vehicles, at an average of $27,000 each, is far less important than the fact that the government eliminated $360,000 from their budget in one year and continues to underfund the education system.

“Yes, we will be responsible in the future, but this was not fair criticism. And it distracts from where the focus of our criticism should be.”

Board chair Bobbi Johnson also took aim at the issue, saying if people have concerns they should come directly to the board, rather than the media.

“It was a shock to find this in the paper. If someone came to us with a concern, we’d look into it. This year we talked to more employees, more parents than ever, so it was difficult to find this out in the paper, on the radio and TV. It’s easier for us to work on it.”

The school board was presented with the DPAC report, including the concerns about vehicle expenses, at a private meeting with school trustees and administration prior to it being released to the News.

Following the budget meeting, Kari Wilkinson, president of the DPAC, says the group has been asking for months for greater transparency on expense matters.

“The DPAC has still made it clear we want accountability and transparency in all areas, and the vehicles is one of them.”

The situation may be complicated to resolve as there appears to be a number of ways vehicle use is handled for different employees in the school district.

A budget report to the board states: “Issues related to employee vehicle use and expenses will need to be reviewed as part of a compensation review as these issues are often part of an employee’s compensation package and employment contract.”