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Strategy to oust VSB has slightest whiff of collusion

If Dianne Turner, the government’s appointee as Vancouver School Board Trustee, is waiting for the superintendent and the secretary-treasurer to return from sick leave so she can hold board and committee meetings, she must know she will be waiting a
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Photo Dan Toulgoet

If Dianne Turner, the government’s appointee as Vancouver School Board Trustee, is waiting for the superintendent and the secretary-treasurer to return from sick leave so she can hold board and committee meetings, she must know she will be waiting a long time.

The superintendent is still a question mark, but Burnaby School Board chairman Ron Burton confirmed to me early Tuesday morning that Vancouver’s secretary-treasurer Russell Horswill will be joining the Burnaby shop on Nov. 7. A few hours later, Turner put out a note wishing him well.

Can’t imagine Horswill didn’t have that Burnaby gig in the works when he went on a medical leave last month.

But Turner has caused herself some grief.  Her first move after being appointed was dumping the board’s acting superintendent Steve Cardwell and acting secretary-treasurer Rick Krowchuk. That was before she knew if or when those six folks on the sick list would be coming back.

It’s just one bump in the road. There will be others, possibly a lawsuit for defamation launched by the former Vision Vancouver trustees, which may depend on the outcome of a WorkSafe B.C. investigation now underway. But for now Vision says it's sending a letter to the ministry asking for an apology.

Here's why they want the apology. You may recall that it was a letter from Sherry Elwood, the president of the B.C. School Superintendents Association, to David Byng, the deputy minister of education, on Sept. 28 — and leaked to the media — that was the first shot fired in the most recent battle that would lead to the dismissal of the whole Vancouver School Board two weeks later.

The strategy to ultimately oust the board that was orchestrated by the government has just the slightest whiff of collusion.

As I noted last week, it was clear from Elwood’s letter that she and Byng had been in discussion for some time before she put her comments in writing. It was sent and leaked the same week the senior staff at the Vancouver School Board went on medical leave, led first by Horswill and Superintendent Scott Robinson.

It was Elwood’s letter that characterized a school board working environment that “continually and cumulatively creates toxicity which fosters fear and a lack of a sense of safety.” It also said failing to follow requests from “individual trustees or the Board, may result in reprisals.”

There was no mention of the effect of what I’m told were regular and conflicting directions coming almost daily from the Ministry of Education to senior staff on issues of closing schools, selling off the Kingsgate Mall and producing a balanced budget.

One curiosity of the School Act — put simply — is that school board staff has to answer to two different bosses: the board and the Ministry of Education. The staff was just the meat in this particular political sandwich.

In the following days after the Elwood letter was leaked, that language became part of the script.

But Elwood wasn’t the only one talking to the ministry. Two days after Elwood’s letter, there was a second letter. This was on B.C. School Trustee Association (BCSTA) letterhead sent to Education Minister Mike Bernier. It was signed by BCSTA president Teresa Rezansoff, Elwood and Kelvin Stretch, the president of the organization that represents B.C.’s school board secretary-treasurers.  

Their letter indicated talks had gone on among them and the minister “earlier this week” beginning before the staff exodus took place. They wanted everyone to follow the same rules under the School Act. And, in the context of what was going on, the Vancouver board was the odd one out failing to pass a balanced budget. So bring them to heel.

(The Vancouver board is the only one in the province that doesn’t belong to the BCSTA. They quit because the association wasn’t activist enough in confronting the provincial government over a variety of issues including funding.)

In a separate statement after the Vancouver firing, Rezansoff told the Vancouver Sun, “we also understand Minister Bernier’s concerns.”

Hours before the firing, the NPA trustees on the board weighed in asking the minister to end the “toxic dysfunction” at the VSB.   

In his statement that day, hours before the VSB meeting which he was assured they would agree to pass a balanced budget, Bernier cited Elwood’s letter in his reasons for his actions.

All his ducks were in a row before that goose was cooked.

@allengarr

Note: this story has been clarified since first posted.