British Columbia

Vancouver School Board fired by B.C. education minister

Long-standing conflict between VSB and provincial government ends in board's ousting

Lisa Johnson - CBC News

October 17, 2016

Minister Mike Bernier has fired all nine elected Vancouver School Board trustees. (Frederic Janvier Gagnon/CBC)

Education Minister Mike Bernier has fired all nine elected Vancouver School Board trustees.

It's a rare move, but one trustees knew could be coming since they rejected a proposal from the B.C. government to balance their budget last June, which was required by law.

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Bernier said the board was dismissed for missing that deadline, and other issues including bullying accusations.

"What we have witnessed from the Vancouver School Board is a misplaced focus on political tactics rather than responsible stewardship," said Bernier.

The school board was set to finally pass a balanced budget tonight, because the minister made it clear it was a requirement to receive seismic upgrade funding.

But Bernier called it "impossible to have any confidence that a potential last-minute change of position ... signals a fundamental change."

Over the years, the B.C. government has fired at least four other school boards for refusing to balance their budget, including Cowichan Valley in 2012 and North Vancouver in 1996. It last happened in Vancouver in 1985.

The role of trustees has recently come under some scrutiny following the decision of B.C.'s education minister to fire all nine of Vancouver's elected members after they refused to balance their budget. (Don Marce/CBC News)

'Extremely disappointed' says mayor

The dismissal of the board comes after months of conflict between the B.C. government and the Vancouver School Board amid budget concerns, and the possible closure of up to 11 schools in the city.

Fired trustees are calling the decision "disappointing" and "outrageous."

"It's outrageous that the democratically-elected Vancouver School Board was fired by the provincial government," said now-former school board chair Mike Lombardi.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said he was "extremely disappointed" with the minister's decision to fire the board. Robertson leads Vision Vancouver, which had four of the nine trustees including the board chair, and is a former MLA for the B.C. NDP.

"It makes no sense when they were about to pass the budget," he said. "I believe [the elected trustees] can do the best job for our kids, and were fighting to keep our schools open."

Mayor Gregor Robertson said he was 'extremely disappointed' the B.C. education minister fired all nine elected Vancouver school trustees. (CBC)

The board legally could have been fired more than three months ago, but Bernier said he didn't want to make any "knee-jerk reactions."

Allegations this month of a toxic work environment — currently the subject of a WorkSafeBC investigation — were taken into consideration, said Bernier.

He said the results of an audit — which he ordered after the school board missed the deadline — raised additional concerns about the Vancouver School Board.

The province cannot release the results of the audit until a privacy commissioner investigation is done, Bernier said.

The B.C. School Trustee Association called Bernier's move "unfortunate" but justified, since confidence in the board had been challenged by "what seems like an unending series of disputes" with the province.

"When you break the law as a school trustee you know what those consequences are," said Teresa Rezansoff, president of the B.C. School Trustees Association, referring to the board's failure to pass a budget.

Each of B.C.'s 60 school districts passed a balanced budget this year, besides Vancouver, the school trustee association said in a statement.

The Opposition New Democratic Party said the decision will lead to "more chaos" for students.

Government trustee appointed

The B.C. education ministry has appointed one of its own employees, Dianne Turner, as the official trustee to replace the board for one year.

Turner is a former superintendent of Delta School District who now holds the position of chief educator with the ministry, reporting to the deputy minister of education.

B.C. Ministry of Education appointed Dianne Turner as official trustee of the Vancouver School District, following the firing of the board. She is the Chief Educator of B.C., a ministry position, and former superintendent of the Delta School District. (Greater Vancouver Food Bank)

"Parents in Vancouver and the province are counting on Ms. Turner to end the continuing turmoil that has dominated the Vancouver school board for too long," Bernier said.

Lombardi, along with his three fired Vision Vancouver co-trustees, was critical of the government appointment.

"The Vancouver School Board is now being run out of Christy Clark's office," Lombardi said at a press conference. "Parents in Vancouver should be deeply worried about this."

"The people of Vancouver elected trustees to stand up for public education, not to do the provincial government's dirty work of closing schools, cutting programs, and selling off public assets [to] address a budget shortfall of their own making."

Stacy Robertson from the Non-Partisan Association (NPA), which had four trustees on the board, called the decision disappointing.

"My hope is that we could have managed through some of these difficult issues, but I think politics just got in the way of any kind of good governance or any kind of reasonable governance," he said.

Janet Fraser, the lone Green Party trustee on the board, said she was also very disappointed.

With files from Richard Zussman and Roshini Nair
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