British Columbia

Dianne Turner 'trying to figure out' how she'll do the job of 9 trustees

Lone VSB trustee Dianne Turner says she has a lot to learn before she makes moves in her new role. But she'll get some help, as the school board's managers off on medical leave are scheduled to make their return soon.

Lone trustee that replaced entire Vancouver School Board addresses public for the first time

Lone VSB trustee, Dianne Turner, addresses media about her new role and how she hopes to tackle some of the problems she's inherited with the job. (Kamil Karamali/CBC)

The new government-appointed trustee who replaced all nine elected trustees of the Vancouver School Board took a deep breath as she approached the podium at the school board's offices.

A semi-circle of cameras surrounded her, waiting for her first words.

"I'm very camera-shy," she said into a bouquet of microphones with a nervous laugh.

"I'd like to start off by saying I'm not a politician. I am and always have been an educator."

Turner went into her background as a teacher, a principal, and most recently as the superintendent for the Delta School District.

'It won't feel like a democracy'

Turner says she knows her stepping into the role is an extremely controversial move, especially since she wasn't elected as the trustees who sat in her position before they were fired by the provincial government

"There is a fear that that voice for the public has disappeared because I was not elected," said Turner.

"It won't feel like democracy has been served to people, I guarantee that. I do understand where the fears are coming from and why people are worried."

Turner says, for her part, she's going to try to make herself accessible to the public as much as possible to try and alleviate some concerns.

"I will still be accessible. People can contact me," said Turner.

Turner says one of her first goals will be to 'get her facts straight' about the current situation of the Vancouver School District.

New VSB trustee Dianne Turner speaks to a number of members from the media. (Kamil Karamali/CBC)

Taking on the role

This is the first time Turner is speaking about her new role as the lone trustee to replace an entire school board. Earlier this week, Education Minister Mike Bernier made a heavily criticized decision by firing all nine.

The school board at the time was about to approve a balanced budget, a requirement under the School Act, and were hopeful it would result in the government approving additional seismic upgrades. 

The drama that unfolded over the past year after Bernier tasked the board to make $21.8-million in cuts to balance the budget was part of the reason he fired the trustees.

Turner said it wasn't an immediate 'yes' when Bernier asked her to take over the role of the official trustee.

"I said I would do this if I could get the kind of supports that I needed for this system," said Turner.

Turner says getting the Vancouver School District on solid financial footing will be a high priority — although she didn't specify a plan to get the job done.

"It's certainly not going to be an overnight task, it's going to take quite awhile to make that happen."

Dianne Turner admits she has a lot to learn about the current situation faced by the Vancouver School District. (Kamil Karamali/CBC)

Turner is stepping in weeks after the former VSB trustees decided to suspend discussions about closing up to 11 schools in the city.

The closures were proposed because of a provincial mandate, since relaxed, that schools be at 95 per cent capacity in order to receive funding for new investments.

Turner says she has no desire to reopen the school closure process at this time.

Staff coming back from stress leave

There were also allegations of a toxic work environment at the board office. As many as six senior managers are on medical leave.

Turner says she's connected with each of them and discussed their timeline for getting back to work.

"We will have staff returning as early as next week, one of them," said Turner.

"And another the following week and so on, until we get to mid-November. Then we'll have everybody here."

Sole VSB trustee Dianne Turner says her compensation is the same as her role as a superintendent at the Delta School District. (Kamil Karamali/CBC)

Cutting back

Turner says she's still trying to figure out how she'll take on the responsibilities of nine school trustees.

She believes some of the responsibilities that traditionally come with a full school board might have to be reduced.

Turner gave the example of how she may not be able to attend the meetings of all five VSB committees.

"Those are things I'm going to have to look at immediately with staff and figure out together how we can consolidate some of that work," said Turner.

Turner says she has committed to a one-year-term offered by the education minister, and her compensation is the same as what she was paid to be the superintendent of the Delta School District.

Turner says her first public school board meeting will be on November 7.