Bullying report shadows Vancouver School Board election
As election approaches, NPA and Green candidates call on all former trustees to release unredacted versions of the report.
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As a Vancouver School Board election nears, a Vision Vancouver trustee candidate says his party has not asked for, nor is prepared to release, unredacted versions of two reports that found that the conduct of some board members constituted bullying and harassment of the school board’s senior staff team.
The party’s stance stands in contrast to Non-Partisan Association (NPA) and Green Party trustees, who gave copies of their unredacted Goldner Report to Metro, and are calling on all former trustees to do the same. A WorksafeBC report reached similar conclusions as the Goldner Report, which was commissioned by VSB.
NPA candidates Fraser Ballantyne and Christopher Richardson, and Green Party of Vancouver candidate Janet Fraser, all served on the former board and are running again in the October 14 byelection.
School District 39 has been left without an elected board for one year. The board’s failure to pass a balanced budget, combined with the allegations of bullying and harassment, led the previous education minister, Mike Bernier, to fire the entire board in October 2016.
The health effects of the bullying and harassment were serious: six senior Vancouver School Board managers went on sick leave in the fall of 2016, and the management team remains disrupted, with several key positions needing to be filled. Employees also expressed fear that former board members might return, according to the Goldner Report.
“I think as the voters go to the polls, they want to have as much information as possible in front of them,” said Janet Fraser.
“These reports hold trustees accountable for their behaviour while elected.”
Fraser and Richardson’s names do not appear in the Goldner Report, but Ballantyne’s name appears on page 39: “Although not all Trustees engaged in disrespectful conduct toward their colleagues, the evidence identified (redacted), (redacted) and Fraser Ballantyne as individuals whose conduct routinely fell below the standard outlined in the Code of Ethics.”
But Mike Lombardi, a former Vision trustee who is running again, said Vision has not ever asked for unredacted reports, because “the report clearly show the impression of the investigator. Our view is that it corroborated what we’re saying, the (situation was caused by the) tremendous stress caused by the B.C. Liberal government continuing to threaten the school board with cuts and school closures.”
However, the Goldner Report dismisses Vision’s contention that the problems were due to the political situation and not because of the conduct of the board:
“The evidence gathered throughout this investigation supports the claims that members of this Board routinely engaged in conduct toward one another that was uncivil, disrespectful and rude. I find this was a persistent pattern of conduct and in the circumstances constituted bullying,” wrote investigator Roslyn Goldner.
“Such conduct not only affected the ability of the Board to function but also affected staff members who although not directly the target of the conduct experienced the stress of a work environment marked by ambient bullying. The fact that the Board is a political arena does not justify displays of disrespectful conduct.”
The Goldner Report describes a toxic work environment at VSB, a situation that had been developing for several years and included intense demands on staff to work overtime in the context of a board that was sharply divided along partisan lines.
The situation came to a head during a contentious Sept. 26, 2016 public meeting around potential school closures. According to the Goldner Report, at that meeting former Vision trustee Patti Bacchus — who is not running again — “proposed motions that undermined the work of the senior management team and subjected them to ridicule and jeering.”
For his part, Ballantyne blamed the problems on “the Vision/Green alliance.” But Fraser denied that there had ever been an alliance between her and the Vision trustees.
Despite the controversy, Fraser hopes the new NDP government, which has committed to increase funding for public education, will help to change the dynamic.
Erica Jaaf, one of two candidates running with OneCity, agreed.
“I believe that all the stress and things we’ve heard about happening at the board table previously strongly had to do with the fact that the stress of 16 years of underfunding,” Jaaf said.
Jaaf is running alongside Carrie Bercic. Both have years of experience serving on District Parent Advisory Councils and other public education advocacy groups. OneCity, a relatively new civic party, aims to give voters an alternative to Vision.
In addition to Fraser, the Green Party of Vancouver is offering Estralita Gonzalez, a small business owner and “wellbeing educator,” and Judy Zaichowsky, a former public school teacher who is now a professor of marketing at SFU’s Beedie School of Business.
As well as Ballantyne and Richardson, the NPA’s slate includes several newcomers: Lisa Dominato, a former public servant in the provincial Ministry of Education; Julian Prieto, who teaches English as a second language; and Rob McDowell, a former diplomat.
Three of Vision Vancouver’s candidates — Mike Lombardi, Joy Alexander and Allan Wong — served on the previous board. They are joined by Theodora Lamb, a community organizer who has worked at several non-profit organizations, and Ken Clement, the CEO of the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network.