WSD board meet some report recommendations, fighting others


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Winnipeg School Division trustees really, really dislike the Prof. John Wiens report on their governance.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/08/2015 (2856 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg School Division trustees really, really dislike the Prof. John Wiens report on their governance.

But the board is hoping that they’ve satisfied Education Minister James Allum’s first deadline of month’s end for responding to the education investigator’s scathing report on their governance by deciding Friday afternoon how they’ll proceed on each of the 22 recommendations.

On the most problematic ones, they’re asking Allum for extensive clarification, or telling him why they don’t think they’re necessary.

Winnipeg School Division board chairman Mark Wasyliw. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press)
Winnipeg School Division board chairman Mark Wasyliw. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press)

Some, they’re sending to board committees to figure out how to implement them.

Some they approved right away — they were already planning to live-stream board meetings next month and to improve public access to meetings and information, and no one had any issue with scheduling senior management performance reviews.

“We passed an implementation plan,” board chair Mark Wasyliw told reporters after the open meeting. “We’re trying to co-operate with the government. They wanted an initial reaction and an accounting.”

But, Wasyliw stressed, trustees “absolutely don’t” accept all 22.

“Some are extremely vague, and we don’t know what the rationale is behind it,” Wasyliw said.

Allum had given WSD trustees their orders: hand him a plan by Aug. 31 on how they will implement the 22 recommendations.

Allum didn’t respond to an interview request Friday.

Wiens told Allum in his review the minister should fire the “out of control” WSD school board Dec. 31 unless it cleans up its act of “shameful, reckless dysfunction.” Allum has given WSD until Aug. 31 to tell him how it will implement the recommendations by year’s end.

Most contentious was an order to report a monthly log of everyone with whom trustees meet, the purpose of that meeting, and why it was not conducted at a public meeting of the board.

Wasyliw pointed out that a trustee could talk to 200 people at a school picnic. Trustee Mike Babinsky argued that people want to be able to talk to a trustee in confidence about sensitive issues.

“I don’t find this onerous. This isn’t asking us to name every person we meet,” said trustee Lisa Naylor.

That’s precisely what it’s doing, said Dean Koshelanyk: “It says, you tell me who, you tell me why, you tell me why it’s outside a meeting.”

Similarly, trustees balked at an ill-defined order to have the superintendent log inappropriate language and unacceptable behaviour by trustees each month.

Kevin Freedman interpreted it to mean a report on rarely-invoked censure of a trustee, but Cathy Collins argued that the person who felt victimized by such behaviour could ask for it to be noted in the minutes.

Wiens ordered that the division cease differential treatment of trustees by staff, without being more specific. Said Koshelanyk: “I’m not aware of any, so how can we cease it?”

Wiens singled out 20-year veteran Babinsky for special criticism, citing a long list of behaviour-related allegations, most of which predated the election last fall of six of the nine trustees, and demanded the board order Babinsky to cease conduct unbecoming, and directed that the board take disciplinary action as harsh as legally possible.

A letter about conduct unbecoming is fine, said Kevin Freedman, but nothing else is necessary: “There’s been two censures (of Babinsky) this year — the point got across.”

Naylor said she wasn’t comfortable taking action on allegations of events before she became a trustee. “They’re hearsay,” she said.

Wiens ordered a protocol be established for trustees who go into divisional work areas.

Chief superintendent Pauline Clarke said there is an informal understanding that trustees make an appointment if they want significant time with a staff member.

“This is baffling, dumbfounding,” erupted Koshelanyk. “You see someone’s busy, you leave them alone. It’s just common sense.”

Board members pointed out that the respectful workplace policy should always be observed when trustees deal with staff.

And trustees were very unhappy with Wiens’s direction that they end a culture of fear within the division. He said staff are afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals.

Instead, said Naylor, the division should survey employees to see what they think of their workplace.

“Is there evidence in the report that supports that assertion?” Wasyliw asked reporters.

Trustees agreed to meet this fall to discuss what Wasyliw called the integrity, accuracy, and fairness of the report. He will urge that such discussions be held in an open session, Wasyliw said.

“The report is flawed. It’s so over the top,” he said. “Some of the rationales just come out of thin air. We have concerns about the partiality.”


Updated on Friday, August 14, 2015 5:43 PM CDT: Full post-meeting update write-thru

Updated on Monday, August 17, 2015 1:38 PM CDT: Fixes typo in headline.

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