Archive for category Accountability

UPDATED: Ombudsman to Ontario Parents and Students – We Don’t Believe You!

(Ontario Ombudsman Taking A Hands Off Approach To Systemic Issues With Ontario’s School Boards)

Just as the Ministry of Education’s probe of more mishandling of public funds at the York Region District School Board becomes clearer, the Ontario Ombudsman has sent a strong message to tax payers that it will not comment on the lack of systemic investigations into the education sector.

In a response to questions this blog sent into the Ombudsman’s office outlining several concerns of those that have written into this office over the past two years, spokesperson Lina Williamson had this to offer:

Your email asks our office to comment on complaints and issues in a public forum (your blog). Due to the confidentiality of our process, this would not be appropriate. We invite you and any parents with whom you are in contact who have unresolved issues with school boards to contact us through our confidential complaint process (more info at this link):

https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Make-a-Complaint.aspx

Williamson also has a message for parents of special needs kids that have complained into the office and feel that the Ombudsman isn’t taking the issues seriously:

[Their] allegations that the Ombudsman has not been tackling issues that matter to Ontarians are unfounded and contrary to the facts. The Ombudsman and his team are deeply committed to enhancing governance in the public sector by promoting transparency, accountability, and fairness.  We do that by resolving more than 21,000 complaints and inquiries every year in the most efficient manner and at the lowest level possible. In fact, 80% of cases are resolved within two weeks.  In the 19 months since his appointment, Ombudsman Paul Dubé has published two Annual Reports, reported on 47 investigations of closed municipal meetings, and published five reports on systemic investigations, calling for policy and procedure reforms in police training, the placement and tracking of inmates in solitary confinement, supports and services for adults with developmental disabilities, and most recently, the provision of school busing services in Toronto. All of the Ombudsman’s 161 recommendations in these investigations have been accepted, and the organizations in question have pledged to implement them.

The office seems to be deeply concerned about transparency, accountability, and fairness just not within the education sector or for children with disabilities this sector serves. With respect to the Ombudsman’s mandate, Williamson had this to offer:

As is typical of a Parliamentary Ombudsman, we are an office of last resort. The Ombudsman is appointed by an all-party committee of the Legislature (not by the government), is impartial (not an advocate), and is completely independent of government, all political parties and interest groups. Anyone with questions is welcome to contact us through our website or at 1-800-263-1830.

Finally, our office recommends all school boards and municipalities have independent integrity commissioners. This is a widely recognized best practice, as local accountability mechanisms within the communities they serve can usually resolve complaints and issues more efficiently (the province recently amended legislation to require all municipalities to have an integrity commissioner by March 2019). The Ombudsman does not replace local accountability officers, but can take complaints about them.

Once again, anyone who has an issue with a school board or other public sector body within our mandate is encouraged to contact us through our confidential online form, complaints phone line, or by emailing info@ombudsman.on.ca/

UPDATED: 11/9/2017 7:15pm

In the quest for transparency, I’ve followed up with the Ombudsman’s office regarding their responses.  There’s been some back and forth since the original posting.  Here’s what has transpired:

JK: The allegations surrounding your office not tackling the issues in the education sector, are not my own.  Those allegations come from those who have directly complained to your office and are being referred back to their respective boards for complaint resolution.  Your response below to questions regarding a specific mandate the Ombudsman has on the education sector, seems to be more generalized.  Are you stating on the record here, that the reason why the Ombudsman hasn’t followed through with SORT investigations into the education sector, is because those complaints that have come into your office regarding school boards have been resolved?  Can you please clear that up.

LW: “Are you stating on the record here, that the reason why the Ombudsman hasn’t followed through with SORT investigations into the education sector, is because those complaints that have come into your office regarding school boards have been resolved?”

No. First, the Ombudsman has done a SORT (systemic) investigation in the school board sector: The report The Route of the Problem was released in August, and all of Mr. Dubé’s recommendations were accepted. It can be found here: https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Investigations/SORT-Investigations/Completed/Toronto-school-busing-issues.aspx

Second, we cannot discuss individual cases with third parties. To reiterate, anyone who has a problem that they have been unable to resolve at the school board level is welcome to contact our office through our confidential complaint process.

For your general information, we oversee more than 1,000 public sector bodies and receive more than 21,00 complaints per year. Most are resolved informally. Receiving multiple complaints on an issue does not necessarily mean the Ombudsman can, should or will conduct a systemic investigation. Several factors go into any decision to conduct a systemic investigation, including the number of complaints, available resources, whether other resolution mechanisms can address the matter, whether there is evidence of a systemic issue, whether the matter relates to administration rather than broad public policy, and whether is being addressed by the institution in question.

JK: I’m not asking you to comment on individual cases, just systemic issues that your office should be aware of through individual complaints, and media reports.  While I congratulate this office for ensuring school children get to school on time in an isolated incident within the province, I’m more than curious to see such a reluctance to put forth investigations on what happens when these kids get to school, the lack of support for special needs, the lack of application of the education act systemically, and a general lack of accountability within the school system itself.  These issues are not just widely known to your office through individual reports, they are widely documented in media.

There’s no valid excuse for not following your mandate when it comes to the education sector.  It’s truly unfortunate that our most vulnerable are caught in the middle and paying a heavy price due to the unwillingness to further, and independently investigate.  That will surely reflect on policy discussions as it comes to any future mandates your office will or will not receive by government post 2018.  The lack of engagement by your office on education issues over the past two years has been duly noted by Ontarioians who have written in to your office for help and have been slapped in the face by this office, and their respective boards.  It’s unfortunate.

JK: While the discussion revolves around recent issues, I’ve attached a response this office gave to 400 individual complaints in 2010, in which your office has outlined concerns regarding the lack of independent oversight on the education sector. There has been very little movement in law regarding those concerns since 2010 other than your mandate.  As a result the education system is in crisis, with our most vulnerable taking most of the hits in the classroom.  I’ve attached this offices 2010 response, and I’ve highlighted what should be self-explanatory.  Your office is fully and completely aware of the problems.  While I know that your office can not comment on these 400 individual complaints, it will make for some interesting public discussions around your mandate moving forward.  I’m still waiting for an interview with Dupe.  The people of Ontario would like to hear directly from him on his mandate and the independence of this office please.

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What has your experience been with the Ombudsman’s office, and the school boards? We would like to hear from you.  Leave a comment, or message us anonymously at jkobopoli at rogers dot com

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Education Crisis Grows As Ontario’s Ombudsman Nowhere To Be Found

(Ontario’s Ombudsman Paul Dube is Falling Short on The Provincial Education Crisis and May Not Be Following His Mandate)

 

With media reports of students across this province being under supported almost on a weekly basis now, frustration with parents who often approach the Ombudsman’s office on lack of compliance of board staff on the education act, to what looks to be systemic misappropriation of tax payers funds by school boards,  to education sector unions demanding more money be spent on their members rather than kids – I thought it might be necessary to write into the Ombudsman’s office and find out why after two years of his mandate which is retroactive, there has been not one systemic investigation into the education sector on these issues in this province with a crisis growing by the day.

Below is a list of questions/concerns I sent into the Ombudsman’s communication department.  Apparently they don’t have a canned response to handle any of the below, and I am told this has been moved up the ladder to the Ombudsman himself, and his staff.  I’m told I should be receiving a response to this “soon” and I will post that response when it comes in.

I’m a syndicated blogger and contributor to a political and policy blog called Mind Bending Politics which follows political policy in Ontario and Canada Wide. I’ve been following the crisis in our education system now for over ten years. The predecessor to your office Andre Marin was quite adamant in getting this mandate to look into Ontario’s education sector since your office was fielding a number of complaints regarding the lack of compliance within the education act on a systematic level. I was one of the primary advocates to ensure that your office received a mandate through the province in investigating complaints within the education system.

https://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/1468053-region-parents-worry-about-anti-bullying-watchdogs/

Two years into your mandate, we’re not seeing a reduction of these issues outlined in the above article, in fact since your office has received your mandate on the educational sector, we’re seeing the lack of compliance within law grow exponentially across the province.

I have followed quite a number of complaints into your office, which should have sparked SORT investigations into the public education system, and the lack of compliance with the education act that is systemic and has been for some time.

I’ve received word by several parents that have written into your office that instead of actively investigating complaints on systemic non-compliance of the education act, you are telling parents that you are a last resort option and referring 100% of these cases I am aware of back to their respective boards where often these complaints end up being not resolved with respect to compliance with the law.

I have a few questions I would like to ask.

1. First, since your mandate the York Regional District School Board has and is the latest board to come under fire for non-compliance of the education act, and misappropriation of public funds, and systemic racism. It took a parents complaint into the human rights tribunal regarding racism before the province decided to step in. Can you explain how or why your office over the past two years were not aware of the situations within the York Regional District School Board that were later outlined by provincial investigators as being long term systemic issues across the YRDSB? Many parents within the YRDSB have written into this office regarding compliance with the education act, and your office has thus far refused to get involved. Can you further explain why that is?

2. Second, in your 2016/2017 annual report, this office gave praise to boards like the YRDSB who are setting up a self policing integrity office, and recommended that other boards do the same. Can you further explain why this office is advocating for a non-independent integrity review when your office has the mandate to independently and systemically investigate compliance with the education act? Why would an integrity office would be needed with your mandate, and why is this office endorsing a non-independent review of the integrity of board employees in the first place?

3. Since September 2017, I’ve seen almost weekly reports in the media and social media of special needs kids being sent home pre-maturely, not properly supported in the education system, lack of compliance with the education act on IEPs, a lack of hiring properly trained staff. Is this office monitoring those reports, and if so could you please offer comment as to why your office isn’t taking any public initiative to conduct a SORT investigation into special needs education in the province of Ontario?

4. Recently Janis Jaffe-White, co-ordinator, and Reva Schafer, resource parent, of the Toronto Family Network wrote an op-ed in the Toronto Star outlining concerns regarding the lack of compliance with the education act province wide for special needs students. I would like this office to further comment on this op-ed and what this office plans on doing to thoroughly investigate these issues with compliance with the education act both at the board, and ministerial level.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editors/2017/10/31/your-letters-pilot-for-autistic-students-only-a-band-aid-solution.html

Warm Regards,

Jason Koblovsky

 

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CUPE Blasts Help For Autistic Kids And Puts Its Members First

(CUPE Says Money Should Go To Its Members Rather Than Autistic Kids)

CUPE who is the union representing educational assistants (EA) in the province of Ontario released a press release this week in which it has lambasted the provincial government for piloting a project which will allow autistic kids to receive privately purchased therapy to be administered in public schools. CUPE says by doing this would open the door to privately funded education, and that its current members are not qualified to handle special needs students despite millions that have been negotiated in front line workers with the province over recent years.

As part of its revamp of Autism services in Ontario the provincial government is expected in the next few months to allow families a choice to purchase Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for kids with autism privately or go through publicly funded Centre’s. This move by the province to offer a private option paid for by the province is expected to reduce wait times for this needed therapy.

The move by the province to pilot a project to allow privately purchased workers to administer this therapy in school would be a necessity to the success of students receiving that therapy at the choice of the families, and lighten the load on parents who often have had to drive autistic kids to and from these appointments, often in separate cities in which the these children are being educated in and miss days at work. CUPE on the other hand thinks that the province should shell out that money to retrain EA’s across the province, rather than give parents a choice or say in their child’s therapy:

“We represent 13,000 Educational Assistants who work hard, with other Board employees and parents, to develop and deliver individualized educational programs to assist students with multiple challenges, including those with autism,” said Terri Preston, Chair of the CUPE Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee. “They are deeply concerned by any initiative that opens the door to the privatization of those critical services in our schools.”

Parents of children with special needs, including children with autism, have every right to expect they can walk into their local school and receive the services their children need, fully funded and publicly provided,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “They shouldn’t have to worry about securing outside funding, finding a private provider or paying out of their own pockets, to ensure their children succeed at school. That is the responsibility of the government and instead of just abdicating their role to private operators, they should be properly funding and providing all the necessary services students with special needs require.”

The ABA therapy these kids will be receiving will most likely be publicly funded as part of the new Ontario Autism Program. Terri Preston, Chair of the CUPE Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee essentially stated in this bizarre press release from CUPE that the union negotiated $52 million from the province for front line workers recently, who by admission of this press release are not qualified enough to be working with special needs kids in our public schools, and the government must pay for unqualified staff to get degrees in behavior analysis (which is a two year full time university course at Brock University):

“As education workers, we know students with special needs need more front-line staff support,” said Preston. “It’s why, in contract extension talks with the government, we negotiated $52 million over two years to increase front-line staff working with students with special needs. Even with those hard-won investments, more support is needed for students with a variety of complex needs and that’s why the government needs to finally conduct a long-overdue funding formula review.”

The press release gets a hell of a lot weirder as you read on. In its closing remarks after blasting the government for allowing parents a choice and complaining that its membership is under-qualified to support kids with special needs ended the press release with this statement:

“Many of us already have ABA training or incorporate ABA principles into our work with students,” said Laura Walton, an Educational Assistant who is also Vice-Chair of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee. “Educational Assistants are constantly upgrading their skills and knowledge, often at their own expense, so any funded training opportunities are always welcome. We have been asking the government to ensure Educational Assistants, and all board employees who work to address the complex needs of our students, have access to an array of professional development opportunities, including ABA training.”

Wouldn’t working with privately funded ABA therapists which I would think would be the goal of the government here, be more beneficial to both their own members and the students they serve? Wouldn’t that give EA’s workplace experience in ABA working alongside these therapists? Where’s the outrage from CUPE that university or college programs educating future EA’s are not required under law to ensure an extensive ABA training? After a $52 million investment from the province in front line EA workers to support special needs, why is the province agreeing with CUPE to hire unqualified staff in a $52 million negotiation in the first place? In our view it should not be the position of the province or tax payer to front the bill for unqualified staff. Simply hiring qualified staff would be a better more economical option, or better yet CUPE can pick up that tab.

The problem that exists right now in the education system is one where there is money in the system, but it’s not getting to the students that need it. There’s no accountability in the education system right now. From this press release, it sounds that CUPE wants to be showered again with government coffers, while the rights of special needs kids in the system are yet again pitted against the needs of education sector unions. For its part, in its press release CUPE blames successive Liberal and PC governments for the lack of supports in our school system, yet falls short on criticizing the NDP who have yet to come out with a platform recognizing the lack of accountability the public education system is currently facing right now – the lives that have already been lost across the province to due education sector unions ignoring student mental health issues  – the full time battles parents of kids of all levels have had to deal with as a result of these unions – yet we continue to shove money down the throats of this unaccountable system in hopes it gets better. $52 million CUPE negotiated went towards unqualified staff. When will the rights of all students in Ontario be put before union demands, and when will we have an accountable public education system?

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Ontario Minimum Wage Increase A Good Idea

(Businesses Across Ontario Are Being Too Penny Wise With The Proposed Wage Increase)

Scary clowns are a big hit these days at the box office, and while the people of Ontario get acquainted with a clown called Pennywise from the latest version of Stephen Kings IT, the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario [FAO] is warning tax payers and job seekers of another scary metamorph; a proposed minimum wage hike of $15/hour.  This increase is set to be fully implemented by 2019 and came under fire yesterday in a report from the FAO.  The FAO stated that it will cost the Ontario economy 50,000 jobs if it goes ahead with this wage hike.

It’s not a surprise that businesses – whom over the past several years have enjoyed a tremendous amount of federal tax breaks – are lining up to oppose this policy and demonizing it as being economically unsound.  Ontario Progressive Conservatives leader Patrick Brown had something to say about it as well, however he brushed off the wage increase a distraction in a bizarre rant on twitter, and Brown isn’t clear on his stance on the policy at all and what he would do differently if he became Premier:

“Wynne is putting potentially 1000s of jobs at risk so she can try and distract from the fact she takes the stand at trial tomorrow #onpoli pic.twitter.com/IUVuQC1VIE

— Patrick Brown (@brownbarrie) September 12, 2017

Brown seems very comfortable in the opposition benches. Offside of the very off tone Ontario PC response, there seems to be a lot of red balloons around the economic storm drains on this policy and it isn’t even Halloween yet.

Since the market crash of 2008, we’ve been shifting from traditional conservative economic ideology (which failed miserably) towards one of managing the economy on several different levels in a bi-partisan way.  Corporate tax cuts have not produced substantial jobs in Canada, in fact the opposite has happened. A study by the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives in 2011 found the biggest employers were sitting on the money they saved from these cuts:

“From 2005 to 2010, the number of employed Canadians rose 6% while the number of jobs created by the companies in the study grew by only 5%. In essence, the largest beneficiaries of corporate tax cuts are dragging down Canadian employment growth.”

In 2013, federal conservatives were warned by then Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney that Canadian companies were sitting on vast sums of cash they have saved through tax cuts, and bail outs rather than creating jobs to bolster the economy.  As I remember it Carney stated this several times throughout his time at the Bank of Canada. While company CEO bonuses grew, so did the economic divide in Canada and in Ontario as well as a result of businesses not investing what they should in the local, regional, and federal economies.  The economy has changed post 2008 not just in Canada but globally, and managing this economy has changed as well.

If the cost of living is high throughout the country and the province, than a minimum wage increase to ensure people have the means to survive should be something we all should be embracing patriotically.  Businesses will adjust.  Yes there may be some job losses (in my opinion way less the FAO has reported will happen) in the short term by companies who are not willing to spend profit margins on their employees, however just as those jobs are lost, they will be offset by more spending power by the general worker.  As the minimum wage increases, so should increases to everyone’s wage as the economy grows as a result of more spending power.  At least that would be the working economic theory on this policy. The wage increase is cycled through the economy.  Employees who make more, become more productive and contribute more to the economy on whole.  With many people in Ontario living paycheque to paycheque, and the fact that over the past several years businesses have sat on cash from tax cuts, they can suck it up and do their part.

The Ontario NDP has been calling for this wage hike for some time.   This ideology was also adapted by conservatives who bailed out auto sectors, and bailed out the economy through “stimulus” after the disastrous effects of traditional conservative ideology of deregulation and corporate tax cuts took hold in 2008.  Change is difficult, but necessary post 2008 economics. Greed is no longer good economics, nor is it socially acceptable post 2008.

JK

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Parents Set To Protest New Autism Announcement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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June 14th, 2017

TORONTO – The parents of several autistic kids will be rallying at Minister Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau’s constituency office on Friday, June 16th, 2017 at 1:00pm. Parents are concerned that transitional services over the past year to the new Ontario Autism Program have not been equally distributed, leaving many children suffering.  Last week Coteau announced changes to the Ontario Autism Program, and that it will include a direct funding option (DFO).  Last June, the DFO option was only given to a few families on wait lists, leaving many children suffering without appropriate service options over the past year.  The announcement last week by Coteau did promise DFO to all families by the end of the year, however details on how that will be rolled out, and exactly when each family can expect that option remains unclear.

Jason Koblovsky, a parent of an autistic child has witnessed first-hand the suffering of his son as a result of the government not offering appropriate transitional services to a majority of families affected by Autism over the past year. “Quite simply, you cannot accommodate some with transitional support to the new Ontario Autism Program, and leave the rest of us hanging like this, which is what has happened over the past year.”  Koblovsky said. “There is nothing available for my son who has been waiting, and who has had an extremely rough year with behavioral issues. All I have been offered as transitional support are group “workshops” in which due to my family situation I can’t even get to.  My son needed the same access to ABA as those who have received DFO over the past year.  The decision last June to provide “some” families with appropriate transitional support and not all represents a major lack of understanding on what our kids go through on a day to day basis without support, and a lack of understanding on how wrong that decision was, which continues to this day by this government. My patience has run out.”

Another parent Angelina Palmisano had to also watch her son suffer as a result of the lack of appropriate supports stated: “For over a year I heard promises from the government. My child has not had any early intervention. EVER! But the government has now decided to accommodate a small demographic of children and leave out a large portion of children out.  The turmoil it has caused me watching my son struggle with behaviors that are severe, is unbelievable and the future scares me.”

Brenna Bloodworth who heads up the Alliance Against The Ontario Autism Program agrees: “Children still left waiting while Direct Funding continues for a minority. That’s not right.”

The rally to support children current suffering and in need of transitional support will get underway on Friday, June 16th, 2017 at 1:00pm.  Address 1200 Lawrence Ave East, Toronto.

More Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/418281901877395/

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Human Rights Appears To Be An Issue In New Ontario Autism Program

 

Minister of Children and Youth Services Micheal Coteau has been a champion of human rights especially in the black community and around racism, but when it comes to autistic kids it may be a different story.  Coteau made an announcement yesterday that was very short on detail regarding the roll out of the direct funding option for many Ontario families. I sent an e-mail to Micheal Nicin who is Coteau’s chief of staff today for further followup and clarification on several key issues relating to the transition over the past year, and providing unequal level of services to children and families.  E-mail is as follows:

Mr. Nicin,

Your ministry appears to be in violation of Section 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code which states:

Services 

  1. Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 1; 1999, c. 6, s. 28 (1); 2001, c. 32, s. 27 (1); 2005, c. 5, s. 32 (1); 2012, c. 7,

There was a lack of detail in the Ministers response yesterday, that further confirms the government is not acting within the law.

Last June, the government immediately implemented a direct funding option for 2,500 families.  I argue the government as a result has waived any legal argument under section 14 of the human rights code due to those services not being equally distributed to other families on the wait list at that time, nor any new adds on the wait list during this transition over the past year. The government also had a legal duty over the past year to accommodate those children on wait lists with equal access to services under the code as well, in which undue hardship would not apply since the Minister during his teleconference a few weeks ago stated to parents that there was money already in the system, and that “Money isn’t the problem.”  I also argue that if there was any question regarding capacity going forward that those 2,500 families shouldn’t have been given priority treatment over the past year while others have suffered as a result of not providing them with equal treatment in services (documented), in order to be within full compliance of the law.

Can you please explain to me what is being done to ensure that the Minister and his staff are properly following the law, and exactly what the details are with respect to the roll out of the direct funding option so that all families currently on wait list currently have that option in a reasonable time frame.  I require specific details at this time.

Regards,

Jason Koblovsky

I will keep everyone informed of any responses.

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Epic Battle Ensued With YRDSB To Give Georgina Residents a Choice

 

One of the major issues facing school board accountability in Ontario is that when school boards appoint trustees, boards tend to favor appointees who are friendly with the board and tend to vote with the board.  In politics it’s extremely hard to unseat an incumbent, so many board appointees have somewhat of a leg up on other potential candidates during elections. Over the course of the past several months, the trustees at the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) have come under fire for misuse of travel expenses, appointment of an unprecedented multi-million dollar contract for a director of education, lack of transparency, loss of public confidence and a lot of infighting.

There has been growing calls to expand the legal roles trustees play in our public school sector to ensure broader public oversight of our education system, and on the flip side some are suggesting trustees have outlived their role and are vocally calling for the role itself to be abolished.  Whatever the side of the fence you belong to, this issue is likely to become a part of the provincial election next year, since the YRDSB is just the most recent board to come under fire over the past several years for misbehaving trustees, and board staff.

A few months ago I posted a blog regarding debates that were going on how to fill a vacant seat at the YRDSB as a result of Georgina Trustee Nancy Elgie resigning.  Since Elgie’s resignation I’ve spoken with YRDSB Chair Loralea Carruthers expressing concern regarding an appointment and that the people of Georgina need a choice.  There are significant issues that Elgie utterly refused to deal with.  Many of those concerns from constituents the Toronto Star bought up with Elgie over a 2 day interview with her and her family, in which hours after the interview Elgie resigned.  There were a large number of concerns the Star presented to Elgie regarding her representation at the board from her constituents and fellow trustees which a lot of Elgie’s supporters and her own family shrugged off as being partisan.

Carruthers admitted that she supported the by-election option back a few months ago, but the majority of the votes on the board were looking at appointing the only other candidate to run against incumbent Nancy Elgie in the last election which was Cynthia Cordova. The board, at the time this decision was going to be made, was under review by the province, and the board was concerned about public backlash as a result of that appointment.  So the board decided to hold a public consultation for mid-March with the people of Georgina and ask what they wanted.

What ensued looked very much like the board manipulating information and the process of consultation to try desperately seek the appointment of Cordova, rather than actually seek the input of the people of Georgina.

The first issue that was present was costing.  The Town of Georgina provided the YRDSB a “very rough estimate” of the costing of a by-election.  The estimate that was provided to the board by the town was the full costing of the 2014 municipal election, in which is headed on the report given to YRDSB staff.  The total cost of the full 2014 municipal election in Georgina was $300,000.  This includes election of town council, mayor, and trustee.  Carruthers during this time was all over media explaining that the board would have to spend $300,000 for a by-election.  Carruthers left out that the $300,000 was actually the full costing of the last municipal election in Georgina, and rather providing due diligence in ensuring accurate information got out to the public on the costing of the by-election, Carruthers ran to media with the $300,000 figure almost immediately. Weeks later, the town halved that figure to approx. $160,000 upon investigation by myself and curious editors at the Toronto Star.  Carruthers blamed inaccurate information by board staff for this mess, and she was just going by information the town provided her, which was titled “2014 municipal election expenses”.

Next up was this so called community consultation.  It was hastily done.  Parents didn’t get notification in some cases until hours before this “consultation” took place on where to attend ensuring that other potential candidates didn’t have time to rally their supporters, all the while ensuring an overall low turnout by holding this consultation essentially during March break.  I spoke with Carruthers to try and get this moved back a week to allow the public proper notification, which she refused.  The ballot asking people what they wanted in this consultation listed the net zero option of appointing Cordova at the top, second option was appointment of another candidate the board would select (costing for that was $60,000), and the final and last option was the by-election.  A lot of policy and law were included on this ballot as well which even for a policy wonk like myself was quite a bit, and should have been simplified for public viewing by the board.

While most living in York Region are somewhat used to this board pulling this type of thing and ensuring the voices of the public don’t actually get through, what is surprising is that all of this took place while the board was under investigation for losing public confidence for exactly that. All throughout this nonsense I was keeping the YRDSB reviewers informed of the situation.  I also consulted with a few legal experts I know well as a result of my time as a youth advocate in the policy trenches, some of whom stated that this situation could be precedent setting if the board had appointed, in that it would put into question the entire provincial school system’s legal ability to appoint, and quite possibly question the legal role trustees have – within what is supposed to be – a democratic institution.

I wrote to all trustees and CC’d the YRDSB reviewers (to ensure the public had access to my concerns at a later date.  Everything sent to the reviewers is subjected to freedom of information requests and a matter of public record).   Here was what I sent on March 17th, 2017 to all trustees:

I’ve been involved for many years working with the province as an advocate to further school board accountability.  In fact I was one of the main advocates advocating for the Ontario Ombudsman to have oversight over the school boards as a result of how dysfunctional the democratic nature of our Provincial School Boards are and how much at risk that is putting our kids in.  The following was sent to Board Chair Loralea Carruthers last night on my behalf.  I wanted to share this with all of you regarding the vacant seat in Georgina, and what the board has chosen to do, and how you have all handled this.  There will be consequences for ALL boards across the province if there is any decision to appoint anyone to this vacant seat:

In my time in the policy trenches both federal and provincially I have met and had the pleasure of speaking with politicians from all sides of the isle. Most politicians that I’ve had the pleasure of working with are very strongly committed to furthering democracy in their respected institutions.  I don’t know of any politician that would ever drop unvetted and unverified numbers on the public, and try and deter constituencies from any democratic process based on costs. Even verified numbers. I think the vast majority of those in both our provincial legislature, and our federal HoC would never do anything like that, since it would undermine the very fabric of democracy in those institutions in which they serve.  There is NO valid argument against any democratic process.
 
You are a good politician.  I know you care about the institution you serve, but I strongly believe the shortsightedness, or the inability to step outside your bubble, is one of the reasons why you are still a trustee. If anything, whatever this turns out to be, will be an fantastic case study as to why our public learning institutions shouldn’t have the legal ability to appoint. In fact you have my word, that if the YRDSB appoints in this circumstance for any reason, you will be the last board in the province to do so.  I can almost guarantee that.
 
Jason Koblovsky
Georgina Parent/Policy Analyst

Days later the ad-hoc committee tasked with this consultation delivered their recommendations to the board which recommended a by-election.  As expected a record low turnout, and those few that did were Cordova’s supporters asking for her appointment.  Publicly Cordova did state that she favored this community consultation process, however Cordova at the time of posting this blog was unavailable for further comment. Board Chair Loralea Carruthers will be at an event on June 12th, meeting with Georgina parents.

Why this blog, and why now?  It is important that all candidates know the issues present in trying to give Georgina a voice at the YRDSB.  I don’t normally get involved in local issues.  A lot of my advocacy around school board accountability was done at a provincial level, through provincial youth advocates and started back in 2009 during a high profile bullying incident at Keswick High and the responses – or lack there of – by the YRDSB and then Trustee Nancy Elgie.  The end result of that advocacy was the province agreeing to expand the Ombudsman’s investigative powers to school boards in 2015.

As a strong supporter of democratic institutions, I would rather see public voices return to school boards.  I would rather see openness and inclusion of the community in the board processes, and above all an end to protectionist behaviors of the boards, which have cost lives across this province and put even more children at great risk due to lack of accountability on the boards by those we elect to them.

Whomever wins this by-election in Georgina will have a very tough role going forward.  Not only will they have less than a year to turn this board around, and produce results for a community long forgotten, but post provincial election in 2018, they will most likely have to publicly defend the role of a trustee in the current school board system.  As a parent, I would rather have a say and my voice respected, rather than not have any voice at all.

JK

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