A trip to Whistler this summer for the board of the Sun West School Division is being defended by those who went.
Six of nine trustees attended the Canadian School Boards Association annual conference, which was held this year in the ski resort town in B.C.
Their spouses also came along for the trip, although they paid their own way.
“We see this (as) a professional development opportunity,” board chair Karen Itterman explained. “It was budgeted for in the 2016-17 budget.”
But the trip came at a time when school divisions across the province were dealing with difficult budget decisions.
The 28 school divisions received $1.9 billion in school operating funding in the 2017-18 budget, a decrease of $22 million in funding from the previous year.
For Sun West, that meant a 4.1 per cent reduction or a $2,270,000 drop in annual funding.
Despite those challenges, the trip was already budgeted for and Itterman isn’t concerned about the optics of how the trip may look to parents or the community.
“When we go to these things we also promote what we’re doing and encourage people to come and take a look what we’re doing for kids, because what we are doing for kids is good stuff,” Itterman argued.
School divisions from across the country attend the annual conference and Itterman believes it is necessary for many trustees from one board to go, rather than sending just one representative.
“When you go to something you are the only one who sees that presentation so you’re getting everything out of it,” Itterman said. “But to come back and present it to a group of people and for them to get the same flavour and passion for what’s being presented, it’s not like being there.”
As for spouses attending, Itterman doesn’t think that makes it look more like a trip for pleasure rather than business.
“It is on their own dime, they pay for their own meals, they pay for their own flight. The only time we get to spend time with them is in the evening when there’s no sessions on,” Itterman maintained.
Itterman is adamant it is worthwhile to have their spouses there.
“It is a chance for them to develop relationships with another spouse that goes as well,” Itterman said. “If they’re paying their own nickel, and they always have, the board’s perspective is it’s not a big deal.”
In the 2017-18 budget, Sun West School Division announced a 40.5 per cent or $177,000 reduction in governance funding, the area of the budget that would pay for such trips.
As a result, Itterman believes there will be different decisions made for next year.
“I would think there would be some very tough decisions about what trustees can attend going forward,” Itterman believed. “And that’s very unfortunate because there’s lots of valuable information and valuable things and conversations that happen at these conferences with school trustees from around Canada.”
The board did not spend all of its budgeted governance money for 2016-17. The cost of the trip for each board member, including registration, flights, meals and accommodation was $2,768.