Vancouver’s new school trustee promises no school closures for ‘foreseeable future’

Dianne Turner vows to change workplace culture and dialogue amid allegations of bullying and harassment

Less than a minute into her first public appearance, Dianne Turner offered a definitive statement of intent, if not a parting shot across the bow.

“I’d like to start off by saying I am not a politician — I am and always have been an educator so there is a slight difference that you’re going  to see in the role of this trustee,” she said.  

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On Monday, Education Minister Mike Bernier fired all nine Vancouver School Board trustees. Thursday was Turner’s third day on the job, and she faced reporters to address issues ranging from staffing levels and workplace safety to seismic funding and balanced budgets.

When pressed to clarify what she meant by distancing herself from being a politician, she stressed that she will never run for public office. When Bernier fired the trustees Monday, the official reason was the failure to deliver a balanced budget by June 30.

But he also suggested, “What we have witnessed from the Vancouver School Board is a misplaced focus on political tactics rather than responsible stewardship.”

Cue up Turner’s response on Thursday.

“When people are elected, they are politicians. I am not elected… I wanted to be really clear that people do make the distinction,” she said.

By the same token, the former Delta superintendent conceded that notions of democracy being undermined by her appointment, rather than being elected, is palpable.

“It won’t feel like democracy has been served to people — I guarantee that,” she said. “I do understand where the fears are coming from. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be very challenging. It’s a very, very different role.”

Given that she’s only three days into her new position, Turner noted that much of her upcoming tasks include fact finding: looking into allegations of a workplace harassment, finding better ways to work with the province to secure and expedite seismic funding and rebuilding public trust.

She was clear on a few, key issues however — she will have a full complement of senior staff in place by mid-November and her first public meeting will be held Nov. 7.

“I can assure you that my expectations about the change of tone and culture in those meetings is going to take place at the very first meeting,” she said.

While public meetings will continue on, the board’s current committee system is likely to change, with Turner saying she will likely consolidate five current committees down to a more manageable number. Turner also confirmed that the current budget has been balanced and the associated cuts are in place. The 2017/2018 budgeting process begins next month, she said, and it includes an anticipated $15-million shortfall.

On the issue of school closures, Turner said it’s non-starter for the “foreseeable future”

“From my perspective, and I told the minister, I was not interested in entertaining a school closure process at this time,” she said. “Planning and dialogue for the foreseeable future, it will not be around school closures. I have no desire or intention to reopen the suspended school closure process at this time.

Turner would not disclose how much she’s getting paid, other than to say it’s the equivalent to the salary she received as Delta’s superintendent. Those in similar positons across Metro Vancouver typically receive well over $200,000.

A Vancouver resident, Turner’s decades-long career in education began as a science teacher. She moved on to a vice principal position at Britannia before serving as principal at Point Grey and Eric Hamber. She became Delta’s superintendent in 2008. Her most recent post was as chief educator for the Ministry of Education, a position she held for less than three months before being seconded by the province for her current job in Vancouver.

@JohnKurucz

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