By Al Gribbin, School District 8 Trustee
From your trustee under censure
The following article reflects my personal views and does not represent the views of the board of School District 8 Kootenay Lake. As a matter of fact, in the last open board meeting, I was the only trustee who voted to challenge this $750,000 public expenditure.
Many of you will have heard that the Kootenay Lake school district will begin providing laptop computers for grades 7 and 10 students next fall. At a cost of about $1,000 per laptop, the total cost of the program for the year will be around $750,000. This program and expenditure may become an annual budgetary item.
The first that the board heard of this proposed purchase was a few days before the February school board meeting; at the very same meeting, the board was presented with the motion to approve the purchase.
From my perspective, a few days did not provide the board with enough time to properly examine the options that were available to our school district and engage in dialogue with our constituents. I proposed an amendment to the motion that any decision be delayed for one month so that we could better examine and understand the implications of this purchase and the options available to the district. Was there a more prudent way to meet the same educational goals than using public funds to start the process of purchasing laptops for every student? Since I was the only board member who voted to take more time to make this decision, the purchase has now been approved.
I understand that it is important for all students to have access to effective technology and not be limited by personal finances. Maybe providing all students with their own $1,000 laptop is public money well spent but I believe that it is also important that the board take time to examine such a large expenditure of public funds. Is there a more cost-effective way to meet the educational goals that these computers are meant to provide?
This money has already been approved for next year’s budget and I am still left asking at what cost? What is the cost of this purchase when we are trying to keep teacher-student ratios down, especially during this time of COVID? What is the cost to other programs that may not be able to operate because of the amount of money being directed to this purchase? What is going to be the cost of keeping 750 laptops operating if they are all being given to students for their own use? Will we have to hire more service technicians? Will programs have to be moved to crowded or less desirable facilities to save money? I believe that there are many questions that have been left unanswered by pushing this decision through. Why was the board being presented with these options only a few days before they had to make their decision?
I don’t like impulsive decisions when it comes to major purchases. This computer purchase may be the right decision but I am concerned that all the options have not been presented to the board nor carefully examined. Normally, this process would occur through the annual public budget review which has yet to take place for the 2021/22 school year.
A critical responsibility of a trustee is financial oversight. From my point of view, I have not been given adequate time and information to be able to perform this function in the manner that I feel is required. I am alone in this point of view and I respect the views of my fellow board members.