A local parent is questioning why a New Westminster school trustee expensed a $238 trip to Victoria to meet with New Westminster MLA Dawn Black on the same day thousands of striking teachers marched on the front lawn of the legislature to protest back-to-work legislation.
Patrick O'Connor recently learned that Michael Ewen, a teacher in Surrey and a union-endorsed trustee, charged the district for the trip that happened to fall on the same day - March 6, 2012 - as the rally.
"It's an inappropriate expense for him to be reimbursed on," said O'Connor, who has long been critical of union-endorsed trustees. "Was he there on official board business?"
The board of education did not direct Ewen to meet with Black in Victoria.
"It appeared to me that he went to Victoria to participate as a BCTF member in the BCTF's rally. The way I see it, Michael concocted this flimsy pretext of an 'MLA meeting,' which he flogged on Twitter, to make it appear that he was in Victoria on official board business, and obviously, then, eligible to bill his costs to the New Westminster school district," O'Connor wrote in an email to The Record. "(The amount) may seem like a small and insignificant amount of money in the school district's multi-million budget, but there is an important principle involved here. This expense should not have been allowed."
In March, Ewen took to his Twitter account to talk about the meeting, tweeting: "Lunch @ Legislature meeting with MLA @Dawn_Black discussing #newwest capital projects and Bill 22." He then posted a picture of himself and Black.
Ewen told The Record he did not attend the March 6 rally, though he did meet with Black for lunch in the legislative dining room where, he said, they discussed plans for new schools to be built in New Westminster.
"I wasn't interested in that event," he said about the rally. "If I wanted to do that as a member of the BCTF, I would have had the BCTF pay my way, which they would have done.
"I was meeting with Dawn Black to talk about the capital project," Ewen said. "I wanted to talk to her about the capital project and get her support. I wanted to see if we could get some stuff moving on that."
When asked if he could have called her to discuss the school projects, Ewen said, "I suppose I could have."
But he went on to say that he normally likes to sit down and meet with people face to face. Black has an office on Sixth Street in New Westminster.
"I'd been trying to meet Dawn for weeks, and we hadn't been able to arrange schedules. I happened to be off work that day, so it wasn't going to cost me $350 dollars lost pay, so I said to her 'Would it be OK if I came over, and we could meet?'"
Ewen called O'Connor's claims that he went to participate in the rally and charge it to the school district "utter nonsense."
"It's just silly," he added.
The New Westminster school district is currently facing a $2.8-million deficit from last year and is projecting another $2.2-million deficit, at least, for this school year if it doesn't make cuts.