School district committee workload unwieldy

Nanaimo school officials are spending too much time attending committee meetings.

Nanaimo school officials are spending too much time attending committee meetings and trustees sometimes repeat the same discussions at different meetings.

Mike McAvoy, a consultant hired to review the district’s governance structure, found that trustees spend on average 15-20 hours per month attending board, standing committee and sub-committee meetings.

The amount of time senior staff spend preparing, attending and following up meetings equals about two months per person, much of that time at the expense of their regular management duties.

The board has three standing committees, 13 sub-committees and representation on nine other committees involving outside organizations.

McAvoy talked to all trustees, most senior staff and district administrators, and representatives from stakeholder groups.

“There was an overwhelming perception that there were too many committees taking an inordinate amount of time,” he said, as he presented his findings at a school board meeting last week.

Many people he interviewed complained that the same debates were happening at both the committee and board meeting levels and sometimes the discussions went through both levels more than once.

The review also found that many people felt the board was investing an increasing amount of time and energy dealing with managerial tasks, that some trustees were suspicious of other trustees’ motives and senior staff sometimes felt that their advice was not believed or valued.

McAvoy recommends the board try adopting two committees of the whole to replace the education, business and human resources standing committees, as well as several of the sub-committees, and to make sure those meetings are more streamlined.

All trustees would attend the committees of the whole as voting members, as opposed to a few voting board members appointed to each current standing committee.

The board should also ensure it focuses on creating policy and less on operational management and it should meet informally with senior staff to help develop a mutually supportive professional working relationship, reads McAvoy’s report.

“I think you have a real opportunity,” he said. “You’ve got new people in positions. You’re willing to go ahead.”

The report was referred to the board development process, which will get underway after a new school board is elected Nov. 19.

Sharon Welch, school board chairwoman, said nothing in the report surprised her.

“I’m disappointed at where we’re at, but I’m really hopeful through this review we’re going to change the face of what we do in this district,” she said. “Even though we’re much better with relationships, we’ve still got a long way to go.”

If the recommendations are adopted, Welch said the board has not yet determined what will happen with the stakeholder groups such as teacher, parent and support worker representatives, who are a part of the current committee structure.