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Sunrise School Division investigated

Education minister initiates probe after four administrators removed

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Education Minister James Allum is investigating the sudden removal of four senior administrators in Sunrise School Division.

The latest to go was assistant superintendent Paul Magnan, a 20-year veteran, who was let go April 24.

Two secretary-treasurers and another assistant superintendent have been removed, one after only six months on the job. An assistant secretary-treasurer left, reportedly of her own accord.

Running the division, which stretches from Powerview through Oakbank and Beausejour to Whitemouth and Prawda, with senior assistants are superintendent and CEO Wayne Leckie and secretary-treasurer Elise Downey.

An aide to Allum said the minister is dispatching deputy education minister Gerald Farthing to Sunrise to find out what’s going on.

"The minister and deputy are concerned. The deputy spoke with the superintendent last week and will be meeting with the superintendent very soon to discuss what is happening in Sunrise School Division," said Allum’s aide.

The division issued a news release April 24 saying it had eliminated Magnan’s position and reallocated the money into classrooms.

Board chairman Don Nichol was unavailable, but Leckie said in an interview Thursday that Sunrise has saved about $600,000 through downsizing and has shifted that money into classrooms.

"I can’t really say anything about the individuals," he said.

The personnel decisions were all ultimately approved by trustees, said Leckie, who would not say if he had recommended the cuts or if trustees had initiated them.

The board eliminated an assistant superintendent, some of whose duties involved human resources, Leckie said.

About 18 months ago, "we severed relationships with the secretary-treasurer we had" and brought in a replacement for a trial period. "At the end of the qualifying period, we said we didn’t think this was going to work" and let that person go.

Downey got the job two months ago. Recently, the assistant secretary-treasurer left for another job and hasn’t been replaced.

Leckie wouldn’t discuss severance costs, but said senior administration contracts allow the board to let people go in return for a specified number of months of salary.

Leckie said he is not personally concerned by the province’s interest in Sunrise, nor is he daunted by having no assistants in a geographically huge division.

"In some cases, we’ve brought back pieces of positions... it would be by reassigning responsibilities elsewhere in the organization."

The Department of Education has acknowledged it has taken its action only twice in recent years. Farthing went in to sort out a revolving door in top jobs in Thompson’s Mystery Lake School Division and to investigate turmoil and program cuts in tiny Turtle River School Division in McCreary.

Magnan declined a recent opportunity to be interviewed.

"Thank you for the offer. Not at this time. I am still negotiating with the division," Magnan said by email.

Former trustee Lorraine Boitson said she and other residents have been trying unsuccessfully to find out what’s happening. "Morale is non-existent — people are fearing for their jobs," she said.

One senior source in public education said the stories coming out of Sunrise are very troubling.

"There’s some really outstanding people who are no longer working there. It’s quite alarming," the source said.

If Sunrise claims to be saving money, said the source, "you’re going to have to pay them their full salary for at least a year. No school division is going to fly with one superintendent. It’s huge."

 

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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