Vancouver’s incoming school trustees will have an expiration date of almost one year to the day now that the NDP government has decided a school board byelection will be held Oct. 14.
Newly appointed NDP Education Minister Rob Fleming made the announcement Thursday afternoon.
The previous nine-member board was fired by Liberal Education Minister Mike Bernier in October 2016. They were replaced by appointed trustee Dianne Turner.
The school board byelection will be held at the same time as the city’s byelection to replace former Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs, who now serves as chief of staff to NDP Premier John Horgan.
The next civic election is scheduled for Oct. 20, 2018, leaving incoming trustees 53 weeks to try and fulfill their mandates. Given that narrow window, the first question put to Fleming during a conference call with reporters was essentially, “Why bother?”
“[Vancouver residents] need a board of trustees to make a number of decisions that are critical for them. I also believe that it’s going to help the health of the Vancouver School Board,” he said. “A lot of things are starting to align now, not the least of which is Dianne Turner playing a key role of continuity and transition to help this new school board be successful.”
Mayor Gregor Robertson has suggested the byelection to replace Meggs will cost north of $1 million.
“It would be a very small amount, perhaps $50,000, that will be the cost recovery for the school board,” Fleming said when asked about specific VSB-related byelection costs. “If they were to conduct a full byelection on their own, it would cost about $1.5 million to administer.”
Bernier fired the previous board after it failed to comply with the School Act and adopt a balanced budget. Turner, a former Delta superintendent, has been in the role of Official Trustee since that time and will transition into an advisory role after the byelection.
“She will stay on for as long as she and the new school board feel that she is helping them get on sound financial footing,” Fleming said. “She’s going to advise on good governance practices, she’s going to help them with key decisions around school infrastructure.”
The Courier reached out to all members of the previous board to gauge whether they’ll run again. Former Vision Vancouver school board chairman Mike Lombardi was the lone ex-trustee to respond and confirmed that he’ll run again.
Patti Bacchus, also a former Vision Vancouver trustee and board chair, said she won't seek a trustee position, nor the vacant seat on council.
None of the previous three NPA trustees — Stacy Robertson, Fraser Ballantyne or Christopher Richardson — responded to an email sent to the party requesting comment. The fourth of the former NPA trustees, Penny Noble, has told the Courier on several occasions she won’t run again. Green Party trustee Janet Fraser said on Twitter she'll run if nominated by the Greens.
Bacchus, a contributor to the online publication the Vancouver Observer, took part in Thursday’s conference call and asked Fleming who will pay Turner’s salary moving forward. Fleming wasn’t clear on that point.
In the wake of last year’s mass firing, a pair of reports prepared by WorkSafe B.C. and Vancouver attorney Roslyn Goldner found that former trustees bullied and harassed senior staff to the point of creating a “toxic working environment.”
The Goldner report specifically points to fired trustees attending board meetings after their dismissal, noting their presence as being “inappropriate and intimidating.”
On June 5, Turner spoke to the possibility of ex-trustees returning to the job when announcing the resignation of VSB superintendent Scott Robinson.
“Many of us have heard repeatedly from parents, teachers and staff that they value the safe and respectful system that has been created since the departure of the previous board — and we can’t go back,” she said.
In response to Turner’s statements in June, Lombardi offered the following:
“Ever since we got dismissed I’ve attended almost every board meeting [and] committee meeting, had conversations with senior staff and continued to follow the events and education and look forward to continuing to make a contribution,” he said. “I’m someone who can get along with everybody and maintain good relationships. I look forward to keeping those going.”
Bacchus also spoke to the Courier around the time of Robinson’s resignation and in response to Turner’s remarks. She was asked specifically what she’d do differently as it related to relations with senior staff and what kind of workplace dynamic she’d expect to return to if re-elected.
“We'd need to sit down and talk about what went wrong and how to get back on track and rebuild the trust that was lost when the Special Advisor asked staff to give them access to confidential information, without telling the trustees. Things went sideways from there, unfortunately.”
Note: the article has been updated since first published.