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Wendy Johnson elected Langley Board of Education chair

Members of the Kwantlen First Nation, Chris Thomas (centre), Michelle Thomas and Kevin Kelly opened the inaugural meeting of the Langley Board of Education with a traditional journey song. - Dan Ferguson/Langley Times
Members of the Kwantlen First Nation, Chris Thomas (centre), Michelle Thomas and Kevin Kelly opened the inaugural meeting of the Langley Board of Education with a traditional journey song.
— image credit: Dan Ferguson/Langley Times

The new chair and vice-chair of the Langley Board of Education are strong supporters of the provincial auditor-general’s prescription of strong medicine to cure the school district’s financial problems.

Wendy Johnson, one of the five trustees elected in the Township, was chosen as chair at the inaugural meeting of the newly-elected board of education Monday night (Dec. 5) while Rob McFarlane from the City was named vice-chair.

Both topped the polls in their respective communities, winning the most votes.

Longtime trustee Alison McVeigh was nominated for both positions by trustee Rod Ross, but lost in a secret ballot.

Both Johnson and McFarlane had just been elected to their first terms as trustees three years ago when the $13.5 million deficit was uncovered and the provincial government ordered it paid back over four years.

Critics, especially the teachers and support staff unions, have complained the cuts have been excessive and the board should have fought for better terms.

During their campaigns for a second term, Johnson and McFarlane both emphatically backed the recommendations of the provincial auditor-general’s report on the deficit, with Johnson posting a copy of the report on her campaign website, and McFarlane condemning a “shocking” lack of fiscal controls before the auditor got involved, in his online video recorded for The Times.

At the Monday night inaugural meeting, the chair and vice-chair were elected to serve 18-month terms, doing away with the temporary revolving-chair system that saw a different trustee helm a board meeting every month.

In their remarks Monday night, the returning trustees tended to talk about staying the course and sticking to the fiscal recovery plan, while the two new trustees, Megan Dykeman and Candy Ashdown, talked about the need for a new direction.

Dykeman called for more accountability and improved communications to “rebuild” relationships with “partner groups” like parents, while Ashdown signaled she will be pressing for an easing of financial cutbacks by thanking the unions who represent teachers and school support staff for their endorsements.

McVeigh said the district has made “excellent progress” toward getting its financial house in order, thanks to district staff.

“We cannot do this without the excellent guidance of our senior management team,” McVeigh said.

Secretary-treasurer David Green, who was brought in to put the district’s financial house in order, said the work is proceeding well.

“In 13 months, I really think we’ve accomplished a lot as a management team,” Green said Monday.

Ross was upbeat, saying the district has “done some amazing things.”

Trustee Cecelia Reekie, the first aboriginal person elected as a Langley school trustee, began serving her first full term Monday.

Reekie was elected for 10 months in January to replace former board chair Joan Bech, who abruptly resigned last fall after moving to the Sunshine Coast.

During the November campaign, McFarlane became the first trustee to call for a second look at the controversial decision to trade away land reserved for a school in the Routley neighborhood to get property for a new school elsewhere in Willoughby.

Since then, other trustees have also hinted the Routley decision ought to be reviewed, and the new chair seemed to be of a similar mind, with Johnson talking about the need Monday night for better communication “particularly with regard to growth and development.”

Parents in the affected neighborhood have complained the district failed to clearly communicate its intentions for the land.

The Monday meeting was limited to the swearing-in of new trustees and the election of a chair and vice-chair.

The new board will hold its first regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13 at the school district offices at 7 p.m.

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