Archive for category Mitzie Hunter

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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YRDSB Leadership Crisis Builds As True Cost of Trustee By-Election Not Known

YRDSB Chair Loralea Carruthers (right) Still Dealing with Massive Public Confidence Issues

This past week there was much indecision at the York Region District School Board [YRDSB] on how to fill former Trustee Nancy Elgie’s seat, punting the ball in an unprecedented move to the people of Georgina.  Trustee Elgie stepped down last month after being caught making a racial slur to a black parent in a meeting regarding systemic racism at the board.  The YRDSB has two options under law.  One is to appoint a trustee; another is to hold a by-election. Both options are being put to the people of Georgina in a “community consultation” process.

A report tabled on March 7th to the YRDSB listed the costs for a trustee by-election at a staggering $300,000. That may be an exaggeration Mind Bending Politics has learned.  In an e-mail to Mind Bending Politics, Georgina spokesperson John Espinosa stated that the estimate for the $300,000 that was provided to the YRDSB was a “very rough” estimate, and noted that the basis for the high costs was the 2014 municipal election in which was a full election of town council, school trustee, mayor, and not a trustee by-election. The breakdown of the by-election estimate provided to the YRDSB is displayed here.

YRDSB Chair Loralea Carruthers has been largely stating in media (page 7), that the approximate $300,000 is a lot of money to spend, and potential candidates for trustees would also be on the hook for thousands of dollars due to campaigning. Questions have arisen over whether the YRDSB is actively trying to deter the people of Georgina, and potential candidates away from the electoral process due to high costs.  In an e-mail to Mind Bending Politics, Carruthers replied:

I’m just speaking the truth – no agenda here.

It is unclear when the YRDSB plans on holding its consultations with the people of Georgina, or what form this consultation will actually take.  Several witnesses to last Tuesday’s meeting including some in media got the impression that these consultations will be in a town hall in person format, something Carruthers denied in her response to Mind Bending Politics when asked about the town hall style approach.

Carruthers stated to local media that the people of Georgina would have to fill a room in order to ensure that there is enough interest to justify the expense of a by-election:

With the board currently under investigation by the province as a result of a major loss of public confidence, can it be a realistic goal that the public will actually show up for a meeting like this in droves?  Realistically if people have lost confidence in the board itself, how can they not expect a low turnout for a meeting like this? An election is much different since campaigning and a good selection of candidates generates interest, something that is currently happening in Georgina’s Ward 1 by-election.

I’ve asked whether or not the costs of the trustee by-election to the Town of Georgina should be shouldered directly by trustees and staff (rather than taken from kids in the system) as a by-election would be seen as trying to regain public confidence in the board.  Carruthers replied:

I’m really not sure what this means.

When asked if appointing a trustee would be largely seen as sending the wrong message to the public regarding public representation, and public confidence at the YRDSB.  Carruthers replied:

I think we answered that [on Tuesday] by going to the public to ask them what they would like.

On the outside allowing members of the public to decide whether or not to appoint a trustee or go to a by-election looks to be a good idea.  On the other hand what seems to be transpiring is a lot of misdirection and misinformation to protect the board from criticisms over a decision to go to the polls, or to appoint.  If the YRDSB goes to the polls, then they are likely to get heat for spending any money on an election as a result of how current trustees have mis-spent tax payers money.  On the other hand if they appoint than it’s viewed as a detriment to the electoral process, and the democratic nature of the board.  What better way to avoid more controversy, than to punt the ball to someone else, in this case the people of Georgina.  That doesn’t really sound like leadership, it sounds rather representative of the protectionist nature of the YRDSB – a nature that has currently landed the board and all its trustees under a provincial investigation.

What’s even more troubling is that I sent Carruthers several e-mails to get her response on questions relating to the $300,000, and the by-election for this blog.  When none was offered I took to twitter, in which Carruthers told me she had not received any of my e-mails and asked that I delete any tweets suggesting she didn’t respond:

 

It seems to be clear to me there is no credible public representation at the YRDSB. Trustees have pretty much decided not to decide on how to handle the most basic of functions of democracy on the board leaving the decision to others to save the institution from more criticism – or worse – they are intentionally misleading the public on costs and manipulating a process to ensure a desired outcome of an appointment.

One thing is for certain though, the YRDSB seems to be in a lot worse situation that I had previously thought with its leadership. Can the board be justified whatever the outcome of this “consultation” is to appoint while in a crisis of leadership and public confidence?  Would anyone appointed be legitimate to their constituency under these circumstances? If an election is held, where will the money come from, and how much will it cost?

I have requested an accurate quote from the Town of Georgina regarding the actual costs associated with a trustee by-election, and I’ve asked Carruthers to provide me with an explanation as to why board staff have seemingly left out the fact the $300,000 quote was a very rough estimate, and essentially that the costs reflected in the $300,000 are the costs of the full municipal election in 2014.  I will post a follow up blog once I receive that information.

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Ministry’s Hands Are Tied On The Racial Slurs Of Trustee Elgie

nancy-elgie-board

(The York Region District School Board Acted To Protect Trustee Nancy Elgie From a Code of Conduct Review)

This week has been a very tough week for the York Region District School Board (YRDSB).  After Tuesday’s emotional meeting with parents, and bizarre apology for racial slurs by Trustee Nancy Elgie,  the Ministry of Education has appointed two investigators to come in and make “recommendations” on how to improve leadership and equality at the York Region District School Board.

Today, Ontario’s Minister of Education appeared on CBC’s Metro Morning to discuss the issues plaguing the YRDSB and did not commit to removing Nancy Elgie as a trustee after several calls from the community for her to step down.  One of the reasons why, is because the YRDSB treated the racial slurs coming from this Trustee’s mouth as a human resources complaint, rather than a code of conduct complaint thus protecting her from the accountability mechanisms that are in place to hold trustees publicly accountable under board bi-laws.

By treating this as a human resources complaint, her fellow trustees at the board can not hold Elgie to account on those racial slurs on code of conduct violations and neither can the Ministry of Education.  Nor can they speak publicly on it as a result of this complaint being confidential.  This is precisely the problem at the York Region District School Board who continually ducks from public accountability, and I fail to see how exactly trust can be instilled back into this institution without Elgie’s outright dismissal which is unlikely to happen as a result of her racial slurs.

Patrick Case, a University of Guelph political science professor is one of the two investigators the Ministry of Education has sent into the YRDSB.  In a recent interview Case stated:

“People need to look at the process as one that will take time. It’s not that the two of us are going to go in there and sprinkle pixie dust. What people should be looking for is steady progress, rather than a quick fix.”

What I think is likely to happen, is that these investigators will come in and provide “short term” solutions to equality.  However, for long term solutions the board and its trustees need to be held accountable if those solutions are to be solidified within the board.  Otherwise this “investigation” by the Ministry seems to be rather a public relations stunt by an unpopular premier looking to solidify votes in the 905 rather than acting on the issue of systemic racism at the YRDSB which requires that Trustee Elgie be held to account publicly under the Trustees code of conduct.

This isn’t just a YRDSB problem.  The school boards are set up as self governing with public representations and accountability.  If the public can’t hold a trustee to account under codes of conduct, than this is going to send a message province wide, that if you become a trustee in the school system, you can do and say what you want without fear of being held accountable.  That’s not a system that has the best interests of the children and communities they serve.  In fact this is and already has made our kids less safe as a result, and this systemic racism will stop short term, but it’ll be business as usual at the YRDSB a few months after the public attention has gone away.

No matter what these “investigators” recommend, if trustee accountability is not put forth regarding Elgie than those recommendations are meaningless and nonbinding.

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