Candidates with Vancouver's Non-Partisan Association held a news conference on Monday to sign an anti-bullying pledge, hoping to make a report that blamed former trustees for creating a toxic work environment a key issue in next month's byelection.
"Our school board became increasingly polarized and could not work in the best interests of students. We believe our opponents have not taken this issue seriously," said NPA candidate Rob McDowell, one of the group's five candidates hoping to be elected to the nine-person school board on Oct. 14.
Last October, the previous school board was fired by the provincial government after failing to pass a balanced budget.
Prior to the firing, several senior staff members had already gone on indefinite leave, and, in March of this year, an independent review ordered by the district found the behaviour of certain individual trustees "contributed to the development of a toxic work environment at the VSB."
- VSB staff feared for their jobs as Vision trustees pursued political agenda, report says
- Vancouver School Board workplace made toxic by trustee behaviour, report finds
The five-point pledge signed by NPA candidates promises to treat others with fairness and respect, speak out against bullying, offer support to those who are bullied and recognize trustees' ability to create change.
"We take this issue very seriously," said McDowell.
"We should be the ones, as school trustees, who are setting an example."
Vision looking forward
But while the NPA is hoping candidates from other parties sign the pledge, Vision Vancouver is rejecting it as a political gimmick.
"Vancouver has seen their campaign tactics before, and we're not buying it again," the party said in a statement.
Three of their five candidates sat on the previous board, including former chair Mike Lombardi.
Vision hasn't agreed to release an unredacted copies of the independent report, but Lombardi has argued his behaviour was driven by his desire to fight for the future of schools that were under the threat of closing.
- Vancouver School Board lays off 167 teachers and staff to stave off $24-million shortfall
- Every Vancouver school to be evaluated for possible closure
"Last year, there was so much stress and strain on the system, because the government was always threatening us with making more cuts and closing schools," he said.
"Now that we have a new government in place that values public education, we want to hit the reset button ... we'll work with them to make sure we have a great education system for our kids."
Lombardi argues the focus on the campaign should be on the future.
"We hope the NPA will start talking about the issues. Those are what we want to focus on. Student learning, student success, getting seismic upgrades, new schools when they need to be built and getting adequate funding to make sure our children can still learn," he said.
"That's what parents ask me about all the time ... those are what we want to focus on."
In total, 19 school board candidates will be on the ballot on Oct. 14. A full list of candidates can be found here.