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.   

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Those findings question the role of school trustees as advocates vs. stewards and identify the VSB’s standing committee system as a governance problem that needs solving.

The report also dismisses the many students, parents and community members who attended several VSB public meetings about school closures as “partisan supporters” and accuses them of being “disruptive and disrespectful” to staff.

It accepts anonymous witness descriptions of the crowd as “pumped up and antagonistic toward staff even before the meeting began.” 

Goldner quotes anonymous “witnesses” (presumably senior staff) saying my financial questions to the superintendent were “pointed and unfair” and says her unnamed witnesses called my respectful questions about a budget for school closures as “nasty.”

I call them doing the due diligence my job required.

She also gets a number of facts wrong. She claims “the primary motivation for school closures was budgetary.”

It was not – it was largely driven by the VSB’s long-range facility plan and government’s 95 percent capacity utilization requirement that was abruptly rescinded by education minister Mike Bernier days before the infamous September 26 meeting.

She claims “since 1995 no school board in this province has failed to pass a balanced budget.” Wrong.

She accepts staff claims Superintendent Scott Robinson didn’t call education minister Mike Bernier’s September 21 announcement rescinding the 95 per cent capacity requirement a “game changer.”

He did in a text message to me, which I offered to share with her — and still have.  

Goldner says witnesses complained the interest of some trustees was to “pursue a political agenda” rather than support staff recommendations regarding closures and that by “advancing that political agenda the trustees undermined the senior staff and exposed them to humiliation and ridicule.”

This shows a startling naivety about the role of elected officials vs bureaucrats.

Goldner’s opinion that political agendas differ from district agendas — and that trustees should set “politics” aside and have a “district agenda" —is the most troubling aspect of her controversial report.

In a post titled “Advocacy and Trusteeship under siege,” long-time New Westminster school trustee Michael Ewen observes that the Milburn/EY and Goldner reports “seem to suggest school boards should not be advocating for public education and that school boards should be unquestioning in their acceptance of senior administration recommendations.”

He's right.

I’ve heard variations of this theme many times since I was elected to the VSB. Yet political beliefs are an expression of values and shape priorities.

To say decisions about how public funds are allocated in a public-school system should not be “political” is breathtakingly naïve and ignorant. As a character in Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain famously says: “The apolitical does not exist—everything is politics.”

What next?

The Goldner report bolsters the Milburn and EY arguments to change the VSB’s  — and possibly all B.C. school boards’ — governance model.

That's a polite way of saying shifting more power to management and diminishing trustee, stakeholder and public oversight and input. Citing no one, Goldner writes “this [current] model impinges on the jurisdiction of the senior management team and its mandate to carry out the day-to-day operations of the district.”

Like the government-appointed “special advisors,” Goldner indicates a preference for closed-door committee meetings where “managers gather stakeholder input and report it to the board.” That’s right — no direct or public input to trustees — filter it all through managers. Yikes.

I suppose it’s not surprising an investigator hired by senior managers and reporting to government-appointed senior managers would reach this conclusion and critique elected trustees for doing their jobs and standing up for their constituents.

It’s unfortunate that so many were smeared along the way — members of the public who attended meetings, union representatives and we trustees — none more so than me.

Voters must be able to decide and vote for the kind of trustees they want representing them.

Candidates can state whether they plan to ask tough questions and represent constituents or that they will approve staff recommendations with only minimal questions. In a democracy voters are supposed to decide this.

Bernier needs to call a Vancouver by-election and let voters choose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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