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Clean up or clear out: report

Investigator slams Winnipeg School Division board

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/7/2015 (1438 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg School Division trustees have less than six months to clean up their act or be fired.

The province could boot out trustees by Dec. 31 if they don't resolve what investigator John Wiens calls their shameful and reckless dysfunction.

If they don't, Wiens concluded, the province should fire the nine school trustees on New Year's Eve.

WSD chairman Mark Wasyliw fired back at Wiens' report, which was commissioned by the province, calling it, among other things, "offensive" and "biased."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/7/2015 (1438 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg School Division trustees have less than six months to clean up their act or be fired.

The province could boot out trustees by Dec. 31 if they don't resolve what investigator John Wiens calls their shameful and reckless dysfunction.

Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum, seen meeting with reporters Tuesday, said he hopes it doesn't come down to firing the school board.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum, seen meeting with reporters Tuesday, said he hopes it doesn't come down to firing the school board.

If they don't, Wiens concluded, the province should fire the nine school trustees on New Year's Eve.

WSD chairman Mark Wasyliw fired back at Wiens' report, which was commissioned by the province, calling it, among other things, "offensive" and "biased."

Wiens — a former superintendent and dean of education at the University of Manitoba, and a current U of M professor — said in his damning report the WSD is a house divided by shifting alliances among trustees and staff who don't understand their roles, powers and responsibilities.

Wiens found a toxic culture of fear in which senior staffers were confronted by individual trustees. One unnamed trustee tried to get into a staff computer, and staffers have reported feeling threatened by trustees, Wiens said. He said there had been a harassment complaint against an unnamed trustee, which chief superintendent Pauline Clarke told him she handled internally.

In his report, Wiens said the board silences senior staff at public meetings: "Unlike with most boards, the bylaws effectively 'silence' not only the superintendent/CEO but also the other senior administrators, even to the point of exhibiting threatening behaviour when they dare to provide further information, clarification or cautions. What a huge and unnecessary waste of knowledge, talent and expertise."

Former education minister Peter Bjornson appointed Wiens last December to report on how to ensure WSD conducts its business as openly as possible and shares information with the public. The division had been plagued for years by accusations it uses short public sessions to deal with issues of little significance before going into lengthy in-camera meetings in which trustees do most of their business behind closed doors.

Education Minister James Allum said Tuesday he hopes not to have to fire the school board and place the province's largest school division under an official trustee, but he has that rarely invoked power in his back pocket: "We don't think we'll have to, we don't want to — it's what we can do," Allum said.

Wasyliw responded in a 16-page response, calling Wiens' report offensive, biased and slanderous. Wasyliw said Wiens had unfairly demeaned him and fellow trustees Sherri Rollins and Mike Babinsky, as well as several senior administrators.

Wiens said Babinsky has regularly been guilty of conduct unbecoming a trustee, and told the board to use every legal means to curtail him, and if necessary, suspend him.

Wasyliw urged those senior managers to get legal advice, and said the board would consider getting its own legal advice.

"Mr. Wiens has done a lot of damage to Winnipeg School Division today," Wasyliw said.

Allum said he met with trustees and senior staff Friday and Monday, and gave WSD until Aug. 31 to develop a plan to implement all 22 of Wiens' recommendations by the end of the year.

Allum said people of goodwill and good faith can work together so parents can be sure the division is acting responsibly and with transparency for the good of their children's education.

"My interest and responsibility are in making sure they follow due process and protocols, in following their roles and responsibilities," he said.

Wasyliw said Wiens should have declared a conflict of interest before criticizing Ward 1 trustee Rollins in his report. Wasyliw said Wiens recruited an unsuccessful Ward 1 candidate last fall and worked on her campaign, a candidate who Wasyliw said is related to a member of Wiens' staff.

Wiens said the board has ignored the law, disrespected parents and held secret meetings that involved only some of the board and none of the staff over issues such as overcrowding at âcole LaVerendrye, private religious studies for kids of consenting parents at Greenway School and parts of developing the operating budget.

His report cited an alleged lack of trust between Clarke and the board, and between the board and Clarke. Wiens said he found numerous instances in which information was not made known to every trustee.

Neither Wiens nor Clarke could be reached Tuesday.

In his report, Wiens said what is "going on right now in the bright glare of the public is embarrassing, shameful, and reckless, extremely detrimental to the division and the very idea of boards of trustees. If this group of people cannot find the resolve and the means to get their act together by Dec. 31, 2015, the minister should replace them with an official trustee as allowed for under the Public Schools Act."

The last time the province took such action was 15 years ago when it dissolved the former Morris-Macdonald school board in the wake of a financial scandal over adult learning centres.

Allum said both Mystery Lake in Thompson and Beausejour-based Sunrise quickly complied after provincial reviews — primarily over serious morale problems and controversial senior staff departures. The NDP government also stepped in to sort out inner turmoil in McCreary-based Turtle River and the former Agassiz School Division in the Beausejour area — but it never publicly threatened to fire the school board in any of those cases.

"Winnipeg School Division board of trustees and the division office is a house multiply divided. While there are some historical roots of this division, I have come to the conclusion that this is neither an inevitable, necessary nor helpful state of affairs," Wiens said in his report to Allum.

"These divisions are caused by role confusion between governance and administration, competing visions of politics and education, contradictory policies and bylaws, inappropriate practices and conduct and overall lack of due diligence in all the above areas."

Wasyliw said trustees "don't have a lot of problems with the recommendations. We're going to implement them," and work on doing so was already underway before Allum released the report. "He could have arrived at the recommendations without these personal attacks. It's all these extraneous attacks and gossip" that are maligning WSD, said Wasyliw, who accused Wiens of not understanding or appreciating the role of trustees.

"This has been an activist board — there are people who are going to be mad at us. If anything, it's brought us closer together," Wasyliw said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

 

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History

Updated on Wednesday, July 8, 2015 at 6:31 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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