The chief executive officer of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District is resigning from the post to take on a new job with the union that represents teachers employed by the district, a move the minister of education says is "unorthodox" and "concerning."
Darrin Pike submitted his resignation this week, the board of trustees announced Thursday.
Pike, who has been running the day-to-day operations of the school district since June 5, 2013, will go to work with the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association.
The union said he will be administrative officer of programs and services, responsible for group insurance and other benefits, as well as professional development.
His move from the employer group, effective April 25, comes at a time when the school district and the provincial government are negotiating a new collective agreement.
Conflict of interest
"Whether it is a real or perceived conflict of interest, it is very concerning to government that this would occur," Education Minister Dale Kirby said Thursday afternoon.
"I was very surprised, and I was very concerned," is how he described his reaction upon hearing the news two days ago.
"Ideally there would be a period of cooling off, so to speak prior to any move of this nature."
While Pike is not a member of the bargaining team itself, Kirby said it is "unorthodox" to be representing the employer one day and "basically the other side" shortly after.
"He certainly would have been privy to information that others would not have been privy to at the teachers' union."
Kirby said lawyers for the school district have advised that Pike did not break a conflict of interest clause in his employment contract with the board, but he maintains there is a "perceived" conflict.
The minister said he's requested that trustees put measures in place as Pike finishes up his work, to make sure there is no release of "sensitive information" that would make things more "difficult or compromised" for government.
'No inside information'
The NLTA, meanwhile, is brushing aside suggestions that hiring Pike gives the union a strategic advantage.
"We already have the opening proposals from the employer," said the president of the teachers' association, Jim Dinn.
"There's been no inside information that benefited us in this situation."
Dinn said Pike will not be a member of the bargaining team, and was the strongest candidate when interviews were done in early April to fill a vacant job at the NLTA .
While Dinn said Pike was not recruited by the NLTA, the union feels it got the "complete package" in its newest hire.
"What Darrin no doubt brings is an extreme amount of experience, of wisdom, of insight, certainly when it comes to resolving many of the educational issues that are common to both of us."
The employer's bargaining proposals will be shared with union branch presidents next week, Dinn said, and with rank and file teachers the week after that.
Pike did not respond to calls from CBC News on Thursday.
The chair of the board of trustees, Goronwy Price, said Pike, the NLTA and the board all understand what lines can't be crossed.
"I have to say if anyone had experience dealing with this individual [Pike], they understand how professional and how dedicated the individual is not only to doing his job but to doing a very good job," Price told CBC News.