Minister wants ‘solid, political relationship’ with new school board

A new nine-person school board will be elected in Saturday’s byelection

12th and Cambie

Had a chance to fire a few questions at Education Minister Rob Fleming Wednesday while he was in town with Premier John Horgan to announce $47 million to replace Bayview and Sir Matthew Begbie elementary schools.

My questions had nothing to do with earthquakes and collapsing schools.

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I wanted to know what kind of tone Fleming planned to set with the new board to ensure that, a) the new trustees balance a budget and, b) that the new board plays nice in the sandbox with the district’s senior staff.

Vancouver will get a new nine-person board Saturday night.

Because you’re engaged in this kind of stuff, you don’t need me to get into the whole story about why Vancouver has been without a school board since last fall. The short story: They didn’t balance a budget and got fired. Interestingly or coincidentally or not surprisingly, they were turfed shortly after the superintendent and his senior staff took unexpected medical leaves, as accusations surfaced of trustees bullying the top brass.

Yeah, for a while there, school board was semi-interesting.

Oh, how I kid.

So what did Fleming say?

Nothing more than you would expect from a new minister. And keep in mind this wasn’t a one-on-one with Fleming, so I took what I could get.

Here we go…

“I have great hopes and great confidence in the voters of Vancouver to elect a board that they see fit. It will undoubtedly be a diverse group of men and women who will sit around that table, and I look forward to working with them. I think one of the things that they’ve lacked for many, many years is a reliable partner in Victoria. We certainly want to start the right way and have a very strong, solid relationship with the new board.”

He didn’t say much about the bullying, except that it can’t be condoned in the workplace. But he did say that “it’s time to build solid political relationships with all our partners and stakeholders in the education system.” 

Fleming went on talk about how pleased he was that Dianne Turner, the official trustee who was appointed to oversee board matters, will stay on as a special advisor -- or as a colleague described her, "a babysitter" -- to help with the transition of the new board and “give advice on governance issues.”

Turner happened to be in the room, so after the news conference I asked her more about “governance issues.”

“Our goal is to have an orientation process for trustees that will help them know their job and help them really contribute in a meaningful way – because they all run for that purpose, right?” she said. “If you read their bios [in their campaign literature] and read what they’re saying, they’re all running on behalf of children and looking forward to having good things happen for kids and staff in the district.”

I caught Fleming before he went out the door and he told me he will meet with the new Vancouver board once it’s in place. Will he give the new trustees a stern talking-to about balancing a budget? Will he tell them to play nice in the sandbox with senior staff?

“The board, I think, will build its own internal dynamics and working relationship. My job is to open the door at the ministry and to our new government and say, ‘Look, we want to work with you, sincerely.’”

Nineteen candidates are running for nine spots.

Go vote.


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