School trustees' job is to represent constituents and ask hard questions. That's not bullying. 

The Goldner report says trustees should set “political agendas” aside and do what managers want.   

The VSB's Goldner report says senior managers were bullied at the now-infamous September 26 VSB meeting pictured above, just as it was about to get underway. Photo: Patti Bacchus

A report released by the Vancouver School Board (VSB) last week concluded VSB trustees had “created a toxic work environment” and some engaged in “bullying and personal harassment” of the VSB’s most senior employees to the point several of them went on leaves on absence.

The report was written by Roslyn Goldner who was hired by the VSB in October to investigate allegations of a toxic workplace at the VSB. I wrote about that process in December and questioned whether it was a legitimate investigation or a political smear

The offending behavior, according to the redacted copy of Goldner’s report posted by the VSB, included sighing, tweeting, eye rolling, pausing while speaking, asking questions, desk thumping, bickering, moving motions and yelling.

That sounds a lot like question period in the B.C. legislature, but this allegedly took place in a school gym on September 26, 2016.

The 44-page report includes extensive anonymous “witness” testimony and redacts almost all names  — except mine and that of former board chair Mike Lombardi. The findings are based on the writer’s opinion that trustees should support staff recommendations without “pursuing political agendas.”

“Everything is politics”

In response to the allegations, I plead guilty to tweeting, moving motions and asking lots of hard questions, and it’s possible I paused or sighed during our many lengthy meetings last fall.

I am truly sorry if that distressed several senior managers to the degree they needed to take leaves of absence — in some cases for three months or more. I like and respect the VSB staff team and I always made a point of thanking them for their work and noting how professional it was.

I feel awful that so many team members were affected to that extent.

I also plead guilty — proudly —  to having a “political agenda” that put students and families first. This agenda was the platform I was elected on, three times.

My Vision Vancouver trustee colleagues — Lombardi, Joy Alexander and Allan Wong — and I did the work we were elected to do. That job wasn’t to rubber stamp staff recommendations to close schools or cut programs.

It was to represent Vancouver residents and ensure decisions made were in their best interests and right for students and their families. It wasn’t to do what the provincial government or senior bureaucrats wanted us to do.

It was to explore all options to provide the best opportunities possible for students.

Would I do anything differently after reading the report? Yes. I would have made a point of doing more to reassure staff that by responding to constituents’ questions and concerns we were not “impugning” the integrity or quality of their work.

I believed that was clear but according to the anonymous witnesses in this report, it was not. I regret that.

I do not, however, regret asking tough questions and ensuring the public’s questions and concerns were addressed. As an elected trustee, we were obliged to ask hard questions and bring motions forward we believed were in the best interests of the students and families we served.  

Goldner’s investigation and report are disputed by the unions that represent VSB employees who issued a statement March 10 saying the report lacks integrity and appears to be politically motivated.

They say none of them were offered an opportunity to be interviewed. They added that the “Trustees’ job is to ask hard questions and to represent their constituents. Public education is a political undertaking and to suggest that it should be otherwise is deeply disturbing and naïve.”

They’re right.

Goldner also says “witnesses” reported a “tactic of persistent questioning” on earlier discussions about cutting the district’s band and strings program, adult education, staff’s request for several non-budgeted additional staffing positions for the PeopleSoft system, the operating budget and school closures.

She says trustees “actively advocated for positions and outcomes contrary to those publically supported by the board.”

That, dear reader, is the job of trustees.

Goldner repeatedly refers to findings in the government-commissioned 2016 special advisor reports by Peter Milburn and EY. Yet documents accessed through freedom of information requests show Ministry of Education senior staff provided edits to those “independent” reports.

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