Blueberry Creek Community School responds to parent concerns

BCCS has undergone a series of changes over the past several years, and while some are pleased with the results, some are not.

Blueberry Creek Community School (BCCS) has undergone a series of changes over the past several years and while the board of directors is happy with the way things are headed, some community members are not. BCCS is a registered society that operates daycare, preschool and other children’s programs — it is not a public school.

Several parents who are unhappy with how things are being handled at the school handed out a flyer on Nov. 21 to people as they were leaving the school. The flyer contained implied accusations including bullying of staff members, improper staff ratios, deterioration of the gardens, lack of criminal record checks and membership irregularities.

In response, BCCS has issued a statement stating: “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. We suspect these few parents are basing their views on incorrect information originating from two former employees at BCCS.”

Ratios

One concerned parent is Amanda Ovington, who has now pulled her children from the school’s programs. She reports that in one instance in October when she went to pick her children up from the school, proper child-to-staff ratios were not being met as one worker was in the office and two workers, although in the day care room, were cleaning. She felt staff should not be doing other tasks while supervising children.

BCCS also responded to the question about worker ratios in the same statement: “Our childcare ratios are always within ministry guidelines and this is overseen by Interior Health Authority (IHA). Our preschool numbers are actually four children below the regulations, and its staff has paid prep time that is nine times more than that provided for kindergarten teachers in the public system.”

Interior Health’s Licensing Direct department confirmed that ratio rules actually do allow for workers to be engaged in other activities such as cleaning or prep work as long as they can still monitor the children. Two complaint inspections completed by Interior Health licensing agents in September show no ration infractions.

Record checks

As to the issue of criminal record checks, BCCS acknowledges, “In the past BCCS staff that did not work directly with children did not have criminal record checks conducted,” but offered reassurances that the practice has changed. “While we have always ensured that childcare staff have regular criminal records checks, we have now extended this to include all BCCS employees as outlined by IHA best practices.” This includes temporary workers such as maintenance and repair crews.

AGM and membership

Tensions came to the surface Nov. 23 when a group of people showed up to attend the society’s annual general meeting even though the meeting had been closed to the public. When asked why the AGM was closed to the public, BCCS executive director Rebecca McDonnell stated, “The decision of the board to hold a members-only AGM was made after the board received legal advise that a society AGM is normally restricted to members. This facilitates open dialogue among society members.” BCCS board chair Jen Carter also confirmed the decision was based on legal advice.

Two security guards were on site to keep things under control and at one point the RCMP was called in. According to Joya McIntyre from Selkirk security, the company was hired to provide security for the AGM, and a panic button on the security system that sends a call to RCMP was activated, according to their policy, when a large group decided to charge two security officers in an attempt to force their way into the closed meeting.

Ovington was one of those wanting to attend the meeting. She says she put her name forward for membership and had submitted a letter of intent for a place on the board. According to the society bylaws, memberships are not automatically granted, but must be approved by the board of directors. According to McDonnell, the board typically approves memberships once a year, prior to the AGM.

According to the BCCS statement, the reasoning behind recent decisions to deny membership requests was, “At this time stability is critical and these decisions were not made lightly by this board. Legal advice was obtained before making these decisions. They were made with the best interest of the society in mind.” McDonnell explained that as long as the person has not had a percieved or real conflict of interest with the society and can act in the best interest of the society, then they are welcome to become a society member.

BCCS currently has 59 children enrolled in preschool, 24 in daycare and 61 in after-school care. They also operate after-school care for 53 students at Robson Community School and a Friday night youth program that had 1900 visits last year. Since the AGM, a total of three families, including the Ovingtons, have withdrawn from the school, but McDonnell reports, “Through this unfortunate process, we have now been able to communicate personally with all the remaining families and all but two have chosen to keep their children in our programs. They are very happy with the staff and the nurturing, safe environment they provide.”

Gardens

One of the changes that has occurred as a cost saving measure was the transition of McDonnell from environmental coordinator to executive director. The position of environmental coordinator was not filled, and McDonnell explained that is one of the reasons the garden program is not as robust as it once was. As for the allegation that the school misspent grant money designated for the gardens, McDonnell explained the school was nominated for and received a grant from BCHydro for their ongoing greening project in the amount of $583. The funds were used to offset the school’s portion of wages for hiring a summer student gardener through a Canada summer student jobs program.

BCCS ran in a deficit for the last three years, but financial records released at the AGM show they are now $20,207 in the black. The society’s financial statements were reviewed by the accounting firm Grant Thorton LLP, which stated they were found to be in accordance with accounting standards for not-for-profit organizations.

Board of directors

Behind the closed doors of the AGM, BCCS board chair Jen Carter reports that 22 voting members were present. The society has 215 members. After the meeting some questions were raised about whether minutes of the meeting were taken, but Carter affirmed minutes were taken by two board members.

The board typically meets once or more a month during the school year. The board is not an operational board, as Carter explains, “Using the model followed by SD20, the BCCS board oversees finances, policies and senior personnel. It also directs the strategic planning for the future of BCCS and is responsible for managing any risk to the society. It is informed about programs, activities, necessary changes to business and licensing practices and issues pertaining to staff by the executive director and child care directors.”

Members wishing to run for election to the BCCS board were asked to submit a letter of intent to the board prior to the AGM. “The board reviewed their letters of intent and were delighted to add an enthusiastic, skilled parent to the list of nominees for the board,” stated Carter. “At the AGM members voted unanimously to increase the number of board members from five to six. The five incumbents and the new board member were elected by acclamation.”

As the dust settles on what has been a tumultuous couple of weeks, McDonnell made a statement that reflects on the society’s aim to move forward. “To ensure the organization’s success, it must continue to move forward in a financially prudent fashion and must use proper governance measures to ensure the operations of BCCS are conducted in a respectful and civil manner,” she said. “As part of this, the board and the organization are considering implementing measures to receive, consider and respond to concerns of the public, so these suggestions and concerns can be presented in a respectful fashion and to best enable the board and BCCS to consider and act on the suggestions and concerns.”

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