Surrey School District superintendent Mike McKay was named official trustee of the Cowichan school district on July 1, after the provincial government fired the nine school trustees for submitting a deficit budget.
“It’s regrettable that the Cowichan Valley board chose to put political advocacy ahead of their obligation to submit a balanced budget,” Education Minister George Abbott said in a statement Sunday morning.
“I know (McKay) will be a great asset to the Cowichan Valley in this role and I am very pleased that he has agreed to take on the responsibility.”
Surrey school chairperson Laurae McNally said the education minister contacted her a few days before the firing to advise her of McKay’s possible appointment.
“He was hoping it wouldn’t come to that,” McNally said Tuesday morning.
McNally said she informally advised the other trustees, and there were no objections.
If anything, she said, the board views the appointment as further confirmation of McKay’s leadership skills.
The superintendent’s appointment is not expected to interfere with his Surrey duties, McNally added.
“It’s business as usual in our school district” McNally said.
McKay is a contract employee, not a salaried worker, which means he has the flexibility to handle other responsibilities, including serving on boards of other organizations like the BC Public School Employers’ Association, McNally said.
On his website, mikemckay.ca, the “about” page notes that the superintendent “…currently serves on the boards of several organizations committed to championing Canada’s public education system and promoting B.C. internationally.”
As well, the website states McKay is “active as an education and leadership consultant and speaker to school districts and educational institutions focusing on innovative leadership, accountability, ethics and professional learning communities.”
The firing of the Cowichan board came after the 5-4 majority said they would not cut any more staff, services or programs in the district to meet provincial budget restrictions.
They’ve obtained an 11-page legal opinion that suggests they could challenge their removal in court.
It predicts a judge would have to weigh two seemingly conflicting School Act requirements: that boards submit balanced budgets, and also provide “equal access for all students to quality learning opportunities and success.”
“Faced with conflicting obligations, the trustees in this case can chose to privilege their obligation to improve student achievement over their obligation to provide a balanced budget,” lawyer Joanna Gislason said in the written opinion trustees received Thursday.
“There is no legal certainty that this decision would be found by a court to justify their removal.”
A press release from School District 79 three days before the firing noted that “individual trustees will now proceed to follow up this opinion with action.”
Chairwoman Eden Haythornthwaite said that could mean paying for the legal expenses out-of-pocket, but noted “we’ve had some offers of assistance for this.”
It’s unknown at this time how much the legal opinion cost, as the district has not yet received the invoice.
McKay could not be reached for comment.