Dayi Clayton Pountney is very pleased that Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside has appointed two special advisors to probe the governance practices of the School District 57 Board of Education.
The Lheidli T’enneh Chief, along with McLeod Lake Indian Band Chief Harley Chingee, earlier this month called for a forensic audit of the board to determine how funds for Indigenous students are being spent.
“We’re very happy about,” said Pountney. “We’re happy that they’re taking us seriously and they’re coming up here and going to do a deeper probe … I hope this gets the relationship (between the bands and the school district) better and that they look at some of the processes that have been going on. I really hope we fix it, that’s what has to happen.”
The advisors are – Kory Wilson, executive director, Indigenous initiatives and partnerships at the B.C. Institute of Technology; and Catherine McGregor, associate professor and associate dean of graduate programs and research at the University of Victoria’s faculty of education – have the power to enter schools and district offices, and can inspect board records. The board and its employees must assist the special advisors in carrying out their duties.
The special advisors will submit bimonthly progress updates to the minister and provide a final report. At the conclusion of the appointment, the minister will assess the situation and determine next steps.
Pountney said part of the concern for the two bands are the fact that graduation rates are lower for Indigenous students, in School District 57 and across the province. He didn’t have specific graduation rates for School District 57, but said that for on-reserve students, this district is “one of the last in the province.”
The aboriginal student six-year graduation rate, which would include on-reserve and off-reserve students, increased from 57.3 per cent in 2016/17 to 65.8 per cent in 2017/18, representing a one-year increase of 8.5 per cent.
And, for Pountney it’s the old adage of ‘follow the money.’
“The money flows into the district, then it flows down to the principals and then it’s the principals’ duty to put that money where the supports are needed,” he said. “If the principals are really doing their job, it messes up everything … we need to look at their processes and making them better.”
He said the two bands have contributed “millions of dollars” over the past 20 years and want “accountability” for those dollars.
The bands provide funds on a per student basis, depending on the needs of the student. Prior to the Local Education Agreement, the district simply received money for on-reserve students. And, if a student dropped out a month into the school year, the school got to keep the funds, Pountney said. Now the money filters through the band quarterly and if the students drops out, the band can still help the students.
Currently there are 76 on-reserve Lheidli T’enneh students in the school system. The band provides funding depending on the student. For example, a special needs student could require funding up as high as $41,000.
Lheidli T’enneh and McLeod Lake Indian Band are also asking for seats on the board of education but the irony of the process now underway is the minister could decide to replace the board with a special trustee.
Pountney said, whatever happens, they want to be involved.
“My biggest piece is not being advisory, it’s being a decision-maker.”
School District 57 has not commented on the appointment of the special advisors, referring media questions to the ministry.