There is, of course, more behind the firing of the Vancouver School Board than the provincial government let the public know Monday. The other shoe in this sordid, drawn-out soap opera will drop soon enough.
But first let’s acknowledge that the government did the right thing – and likely should have done it long before now – by getting rid of a group dominated by apparatchiks of the civic Vision Vancouver party whose sole purpose was to act as an unceasing pain in the side of a government they ideologically oppose.
And be clear, the “children” for whom these Vision trustees have long purported to be fighting for have always been mere props in a larger war they’ve been waging as proxies of the provincial New Democrats. And the result has been what you might expect: turmoil, petty accusations and a stream of self-serving proclamations that they, and only they, know what is best for schools.
Unfortunately, you can’t operate a provincial education system under such circumstances. Someone has to be the adult. If every district was intent on being the obstinate, ever-defying child the VSB had become with Vision Vancouver trustees in control, you’d have chaos. The VSB wanted special treatment; insisted on acting like it didn’t have to abide by the same rules as other districts around the province. Well, the board found out Monday it doesn’t work that way.
The recent strife mostly surrounded the board’s refusal to pass a balanced budget, which it’s obligated to under law. It also refused to close drastically under-utilized schools as a means of saving money that would help address the district’s fiscal challenges. The board recently did an about-face on the budget, saying it would balance its books at a meeting Monday night.
But many saw it as a political stunt, perhaps intended to blunt criticisms that may be coming down the road.
Amid the piercing complaints from Vision trustees that the provincial Liberals were ruining education, it was learned that the VSB’s six-person management team had gone on leave – in four cases related to stress. And the managers pointed the finger squarely at unnamed trustees as being the source of their anxiety.
WorkSafe BC is looking into the complaints. But a special adviser appointed earlier by the government to investigate the VSB’s financial and governance practices was also asked to look into the unprecedented leave-taking and accusations of bullying. The release of that report is being held up by a complaint made by a Vision trustee over privacy concerns. That grievance, in turn, is being considered by the Privacy Commissioner.
But Education Minister Mike Bernier has seen the now-completed adviser’s report and at his Monday news conference said it only “deepens my concerns” about the past actions of the now-departed board.
While he said he could not get into specifics pending the ruling by the Privacy Commissioner, Mr. Bernier added: “Let’s just say that for the most part, there was nothing in that information that gave me any confidence that the decisions being made by the board in the past or going forward will actually be beneficial for the students.”
In other words, Peter Milburn’s investigation is likely to be a scathing and unremitting indictment of the VSB’s activities. And do not be surprised if individual trustees, and their actions, are linked to the stress leaves of those senior managers now sitting at home collecting their pay because they are afraid to go to work.
The VSB had to go. Whether some parents in the district choose to now make martyrs out of those who were fired is up to them. We will certainly see whether anger at the Liberals is as deep-seated as Vision trustees insist. There is a provincial election in May. There shouldn’t be any Liberals elected in the city if the rage over its dealings with the VSB is as real and intense as Vision trustees say.
Meantime, it will be Dianne Turner’s job to restore order to the VSB. Appointed by Mr. Bernier to replace the board, Ms. Turner is a former superintendent with the Delta school board and is as competent an administrator as there is.
Vancouver should consider itself lucky. It will now get the kind of guidance and leadership that has been absent for years.Report Typo/Error