New Autism Announcement: Self Congratulatory And Very Short on Details

(Micheal Coteau Announces “Milestones” For New Autism Program With No Details and No Questions From Media)

Today the Minister of Children and Youth Services Micheal Coteau made an “announcement” on what the new Ontario Autism Program (OAP) will look like.  The announcement was made at one of the regional service providers in Ontario – ErinOak – and live streamed via web.  About half of the announcement was congratulating the people involved for their hard work, before many found the live streaming of the event cut out, just as Coteau started his “announcement”.

Most of what was “announced” today is what a lot of parents already knew.  It wasn’t really an announcement, more of a presentation of what the government is working on.  I participated in a teleconference town hall a few weeks ago with Coteau, and wrote about it.  The only real take away from this announcement is that the Minister seems to have moved in the right direction around regulating providers in the Ontario Autism Program, which he pretty much dismissed a few weeks ago in the teleconference.  Another big take away is that a few weeks ago the Minister told parents he was on the fence regarding an appeals process to allow parents an option to appeal decisions made in service reductions, diagnosis, etc.  There will be an appeals process in the new OAP, but no details as to what that will actually look like.

In fact, there’s basically nothing in this announcement that details anything with respect the new OAP. Concerns brought up a few weeks ago with the minister regarding direct funding and how that would be implemented were not addressed today.  Coteau stated to parents that the vast majority of kids waiting on ABA wait lists not currently receiving a direct funding option, would have to wait for a block of ABA to become available after direct funding was rolled out before they would qualify.  This would put the vast majority of kids on wait lists right now without direct funding options well into the provincial election of 2018.

Coteau then ended this “announcement” of milestones by taking no questions from media.  The Ministry has provided the following information today to media and parents, along with a “puff piece” press release on the “announcement” today:

Beginning in June 2017:

-Single point of entry: Families will join the new Ontario Autism Program through a 1-800 number for each region. Families will no longer need to apply to two separate programs, nor will they receive separate assessments or have multiple autism service plans.

-More treatment spaces: The number of treatment spaces available province-wide will continue to increase so families will experience shorter wait times and access services sooner.

-Child and family-centered services: Consistent, evidence-based clinical decision making will be focused on children’s individual needs and will include input from parents, service providers and educators. Autism services will be tailored to the individual needs of children and youth, regardless of age. Families will be actively involved and play a central role in the assessment, goal-setting and intervention planning process for their child.

-Fair and transparent waitlist transition: Families will enter the OAP in chronological order, based on their position on the current waitlist. For children who are on both ABA and IBI waitlists, the position with the earliest date will be used. New families will be added to the OAP waitlist in chronological order based on their date of referral.

-Service continuity: Families currently receiving direct funding will continue to receive funding throughout the transition, until a new direct funding option is implemented by the end of this year.

Beginning by the end of 2017:

-Ongoing engagement: The government will continue to engage with the OAP Advisory Committee, families, providers and other stakeholders throughout the transition to the new program.

-New support workers: Family Support Workers and Support Teams will be available to help families navigate the new program and to provide individualized support. These teams could include support workers, clinicians, educators, service providers and other experts that families wish to work with on their child’s progress.

-New appeals process: If families have concerns with their child’s plan for behavioural intervention, they will be able to request an independent review of the plan through a new appeals process.

-More treatment spaces: The number of treatment spaces will continue to increase, to reduce wait times and provide services sooner for all families in the OAP. When a child’s spot becomes available, the child’s family will be able to choose to receive service through direct funding or direct service.

-A choice of direct funding for all families: A new direct funding option will be available by the end of 2017 to all families who choose it. This will give families a clear, fair and transparent choice in their provider.

Spring 2018:

-Full implementation: By spring 2018, the new OAP will be fully in place.

-Ongoing engagement: Consultations with families and service providers will continue as the new OAP is fully implemented to ensure that the OAP meets the needs of families.

Over all I can only describe as a gamer.  It felt like an over-hyped tease we see all the time in the gaming industry than anything useful.  I just hope that unlike the gaming industry who hypes up game releases for a year with very little details, that on release day we don’t all feel like we’ve bought into something that quite clearly isn’t the product we expected, and that it’ll be too late to ensure things run smoothly, or to appropriately change.  The lack of details today concern me very much as a parent.

I’m not sure patting each other on the back today is at all appropriate considering 21,000 families are still waiting for services while others are receiving “preferential” treatment. There are very real ethical and legal questions surrounding that. It’s quite clear from what was announced today that the vast majority of families waiting for equal levels of service, will most likely have to wait pending the outcome of the 2018 provincial election. That is quite simply and unequivocally unacceptable.

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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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Minister Coteau Finally Sighted By Parents On The Autism File

Micheal Coteau the Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services as been somewhat like a Sasquatch to many in the autism community.  There have been reported sightings, but often those reports come with fuzzy details, and then he seems to vanish into the wilderness of Queen’s Park.  Almost a year has passed since Coteau took the reins on developing the new Ontario Autism Program (OAP), and he hasn’t met with a broad swath of parents, nor has adequately addressed concerns.

Last Thursday I participated in what I hope to be many teleconference town halls put together by Coteau and his staff.  There were 12 of us parents on the line.  Over the past year I have been strongly advocating for such an approach with ministry staff. I’m glad that they are attempting to properly communicate with parents.

During last Thursday’s teleconference, I got the impression that there doesn’t seem to be an adequate understanding by Coteau on the problems within the system and the amount of advocacy needed from parents to ensure service delivery for their kids.  Most of the discussions in the teleconference revolved around the direct funding option, implementation of direct funding, appeals process, and accountability within the service providers.  Out of privacy for the others that were a part of this call, I will be only touching up on these issues since it directly relates to public policy and those discussions were generalized.

Direct Funding:

What direct funding will do is provide families who are on the centralized ABA wait list the option to opt out of waiting for services and provide them with funds to purchase their own.  Coteau stated that there will be no cap in funding and it would be geared towards the level of support a child needs.

When asked when direct funding would be made available for kids, Coteau stated by the end of the year.  I did bring up that there are currently 2,500 families who are receiving direct funding payments, but the vast majority of parents are still waiting.  I stated that it seems rather unfair for the vast majority of families to wait until the end of the year, when last year the Ministry immediately gave 2,500 families that funding.  Coteau stated that it is his hope to have the direct funding out as soon as possible, and they were looking at moving it up a few months.  I then stated that there is no reason for this funding not to be available to parents in June.  Coteau stated that he wasn’t sure the capacity is there yet to handle the direct funding option so early.

The centralized ABA wait list is seemingly how people will be able to access direct funding during the transition.  So if you are not on that wait list, get on it.  If you are on the wait list, the Minister stated that the regional service providers must provide you with information on where you are on that list when requested.  Several parents brought up that the regional service providers are actively refusing to provide that information.  Coteau stated he would be following up with the regional providers on this and asked those that couldn’t get that information to connect with Ministry staff who would source that out.

Currently the ABA services offered are useless to many families and are 1 – 2 hour/week blocks.  When the new OAP is rolled out, ABA services will increase to a maxim of 20 hours per week.  For the current 1 – 2 hour/week blocks, there was some discussion on how this would work if your family is currently on the ABA wait list.  Once the direct funding is rolled out, you have to wait until your child’s name comes up for an ABA spot before you will be able to access direct funding in the new OAP, which runs counter to the intimidate direct funding the ministry provided 2,500 families last year.

From my take of this discussion, if you are currently on the wait list for the useless current 1 – 2 hour/week ABA blocks, and your child’s name comes up before the direct funding roll out, you have to go through the block of useless ABA.  If that useless ABA is done before direct funding is rolled out, it is my understanding that you will be put on another wait list for another block of ABA.  Once that next spot becomes available is when your child will be able to access direct funding.

The way things look right now is that direct funding won’t be an option for many families until after the next election due to wait lists, “capacity problems”, and politics.  Direct funding should be an option to all in June in my opinion.

Appeals:

This is a big one.  If a family disagrees with a professional decision made regarding how many hours of service a child is entitled to; will there be an appeals process to appeal a reduction of service or service withdrawal in the new OAP?  Considering the amount of problems I am aware of through social media and how regional service providers have in the past treated families, to my utter surprise Coteau stated that he was on the fence regarding an appeals process in the new OAP.

Coteau brought up an argument against an appeals process stated that he was worried that parents would constantly use the appeals process to advocate against service reduction.  If this is the main concern, Coteau is very much tone deaf to the problems the system faces right now.  I brought up twice that every patient in Ontario has the right to a second opinion, while he was defending this view.  It is a legal right and cannot be taken away. The appeals issue is being punted back to the implementation committee for further review and recommendations.

I find Coteau’s argument against an appeals process to be quite telling.  If he’s worried about parents using the appeals process en masse due to service reductions, than one has to wonder if the new OAP will actually properly support the kids that need it.  The argument against, seems to suggest Coteau is worried about backlash regarding service reductions.

Accountability:

There was some talk about getting regulation in place for those providing services through the direct service option with regional providers. There didn’t seem to be a lot of will to do so.  Coteau stated that everyone’s take on the regional service providers seems to be different.  Some really like the service they are getting, and others don’t.  This runs counter to public statements made by Coteau not even a few months ago stating that things need to change with the regional providers because he was getting a lot of complaints from parents.  This also seems counter to a lot of the discussions I have been monitoring through social media about how badly families seem to be treated by regional service providers across the province.

Off side of the three main points of direct funding, appeals, and accountability within the new OAP, I did bring up the issue of wait times, and wait lists.  I know firsthand how much damage it’s caused my son, my wife, and myself and we’re still waiting for proper ABA supports.  Coteau went on a bizarre rant about how everyone has to wait for services on a number of fronts, and used shootings in the black communities in Toronto to justify the lack of services and wait times for those services, yet in the same breath stated regarding autism services in Ontario that the money is there, and the system just needs to be more accountable, and transparent.  I’m not sure how that’s going to be accomplished without regulation, and an appeals process.

Coteau went on to say that he wants to make parents happy and proud of the new OAP, and that this government is committed to helping youth and children, and he will be doing more of these teleconference town halls after the OAP announcement in a few weeks, trying to focus on parents he has not heard from.

Coteau has had a year to consult parents, and only now when it’s starting to become election season that seems to be starting to happen.  I think going forward it’s going to be a certainty, that many families will fall through the cracks, and we’re going to see the legal side of this very soon appear in Ontario courts and tribunals.  Many serious problems will arise as a result of poor planning.  There just simply isn’t a level of understanding I feel that is needed to fix the most pressing concerns with the autism community properly.  Coteau seems rather tone deaf to major concerns facing the autism community.  Most of that is a result of the lack of consultation, and misrepresentation of the autism community on whole rather than ensuring a direct line for parents with the minister over the past year.

The caveat in all of this is that they are now committed to broadly consulting parents, but I think it’s way too late to contain a lot of the carnage that this new OAP is likely to incur. I hope I’m wrong, and I hope that all those that have worked so hard over the past year in different committees don’t see their work flushed down the toilet due to poor planning, and execution by a tired and desperate government trying to do everything it can to cling on to power, and score a win with Ontario voters. We’ve seen that before with the government’s take of expert panels on autism services last year.

In contrast, it took me 10 months to get a direct line into this provincial minister, when it took me 10 seconds to get often direct responses from federal ministers in the past through social media on questions or concerns regarding policy on a variety of topics.  Almost all federal politicians of all stripes have been a lot more forthcoming, open and approachable than Coteau has been towards concerned autism parents, and the community as a whole over the past year. One would figure that a Minister of Children and Youth Services would have been a lot more accessible to parents, especially when it relates to some of our most vulnerable in society.

As for our situation at home, none of what was talked about during this teleconference does anything for my son who has been waiting 7 years for a proper level of ABA support due to disappearing paperwork and records at Kinark. Nor was there any commitment from the government to ensure that never happens again to another family through regulation. We’re still going to be waiting when we need that support now.  My son is dramatically, and unnecessarily suffering as a result of that support not being made available while 2,500 families received immediate direct funding last year to get that support, and no solid time line as to when we can expect in home proper ABA support from this government. All this teleconference did for me, is solidify who not to vote for in the next election, and I have a strong feeling unless some major developments happen between now and the announcement of the new OAP, I won’t be alone.

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Autism Parents Say They’ve Been Duped In Open Letter To Coteau

(Autism Parents Say MCYS is still cutting therapy from kids 5 and up)

In an open letter to the Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services, several parents of autistic kids say they’ve been duped by the province into thinking that funding was restored for intensive therapy for kids over 5.

Last year Ontario Premiere Kathleen Wynne decided to cut funding for intensive behavioral intervention therapy for kids over the age of 5, which sparked heated protests from parents, and support for parents concerns from both opposition parties, experts and the public.  After months of  tremendous public pressure, the Wynne Government “backtracked” and “restored” funding stated that all kids would get the therapy they need regardless of age.  Parents are now refuting that, and almost a year later, evidence is starting to emerge that only a some kids have received funding from the government with many over the age of 5 still being denied.

What’s also in question is the transparency around a committee set up by the Wynne government to look at implementation of the Government’s new autism program set to start in June of this year, leaving many questions parents have with respect to this new program and what is currently taking place with therapy for kids over 5 unanswered.

A full copy of the open letter can be found here, and displayed below:

Hello Mr. Coteau,

Surely you are aware that the autism (ASD) community has been closely following the progress the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) has made in regards to the implementation of the new Ontario Autism Program (OAP), since you, Mr. Coteau, were named the Minister of Children and Youth Services this past June.

Your initial commitment to improving the roll out of the new OAP and including the ASD community in the process, feels like nothing more than an exaggerated attempt at manipulating parents into believing we have a reason to celebrate, a reason to be hopeful. Many children are simply being forgotten, the public is still left without crucial information, non-disclosure agreements remain in effect on both the Advisory and Expert Committees, and many families are feeling as though their child’s services are about to be taken away. We are not hopeful, we are terrified.

In June of 2016, you had committed to removing the 5 year age cap and ensuring that all children with autism, regardless of age, receive the clinically recommended, individualized services that they need, including those currently receiving services and those removed from the Intensive Behavioral Intervention (IBI) wait list. You did not announce this as a short-term offering, but a long-term solution. As we approach spring of 2017 and are just a few months away from the anticipated start of the new Ontario Autism Program, things clearly aren’t going as planned.

Some things have remained consistent, in contradiction with your commitments. Regional providers are still suggesting and moving forward with plans to reduce services for those over 5; many families were delayed in receiving or simply not told that they qualify for the one-time funding payments, others face great difficulty reconciling funds though spent appropriately; wait lists continue to grow as services are not being offered to families any faster than before; Children 3-5 years old receiving new diagnoses’ are not only continuing to age out of IBI eligibility, they do not qualify for any interim funding or continuous ABA; and parents continue to be left in the dark about how the new OAP will affect their children’s lives.

Though you assured parents that all children would receive individualized therapy at the level of intensity that they need, every contract, letter, and even the Ministry web page make it very clear – when the new OAP begins in June, as spots become available, children 5 and older can not continue their DSO/DFO IBI, those removed from the wait list can not continue their currently funded private therapy or continuous ABA treatment from their regional provider. The age cap for intensive therapy? It will very much still exist as IBI will remain in place for those under the age of 5. How can we rely on the notion that the new OAP will offer children the same intensive services, when it belongs to a separate stream that they do not qualify for?

With no insight into what the new OAP will offer, committee meeting updates lacking great detail and nobody answering questions, all we are left to know is that in a few short months, regardless of whether or not our children are currently receiving exactly what they need, it will all be replaced with something different, and it appears, something less. If children were going to receive exactly what they need, many of these children would not be ripped away from their current services, or continue to be denied access to services they have long awaited – due to their age.
You should understand that after the Government’s misinterpretation of the expert committee’s recommendations last year, there is very little trust left within the ASD community. Any apparent attempt to refuse the release of essential information is seen as an attempt to prevent parents from opposing it before it is implemented. What issues do you anticipate will arise if you inform parents in a direct, transparent manner on decisions regarding the development of the OAP?

We can not take a chance on our children’s best interests and sit back until June in hopes of a favorable outcome with the ever-growing list of red flags and uncertainties. It is time that the Ministry explain itself, and provide detailed information in regards to the services & intensity options that children over 5 will receive in the Ontario Autism Program. Will you be keeping your promises, Mr. Coteau? Or are you balancing the budget on our backs once again?

Sincerely,
Brenna Bloodworth, Tanya Corey, John McArthur, Angelina Palmisano, Jenn Masonovich, Dennis Madge, Anne Jovanovic, Steve Cannon, Candice Shaver, Kate Dudley Logue, Ashley Sturgess, I Yu, Jenny Sturgeon, Jacques Sturgeon, Robert Shalka, Elena Gudyrenko, Jordyn Lee, Venette Gerden Purcell, Rhonda Allaby-Glass, Etienne Glass, Jason Koblovsky, Nicole Roy, Amy Hackett, Julie Ding, Hubert Wong, Angela Wong, Jenn Lalonde, Ross MacLean, Nisha Kapadia, Robert Orbegoso, Martina Pietracupa, Trish Dennis, Jennifer Stehlik, Omar D’Angelo, Pat McKenna, Julie-Anne Duncan, Stephen Chartrand, Marimuthu Ramakrishnan, Bobbie Arbuckle, Mike Arbuckle, Anne Mason, Rebecca Haight, Gwenny Seymour, Sara Haight, Lily Mondesir, Roberson Mondesir, Veronica Savage, Olen Boynton, Anne Burgess, Jillian Tweedy, Lesley Adams, Lina Khouri, Shannon Charlebois, Sarah Jones

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York Board Sets Georgina Community Consultation For March 23rd, 2017

 

The York Region District School Board [YRDSB] has set its “community consultation” on how to fill the vacant seat in Georgina for March 23rd, 2017.  This is remarkably right after March break, when most parents are getting caught up on other things, and very little notification is being given out, so I’m not sure if this consultative process will be an accurate representation of Georgina as a result.

What the YRDSB is NOT telling parents and citizens is that any costs associated with t a by-election will not cost the tax payers extra money.  The board has a “contingency fund” it can rely on already factored into its current budget to pay for any by-election.  There would be no extra costs to the tax payers or the province.  Something board Chair Loralea Carruthers confirmed to Mind Bending Politics today in a phone call, and something that hasn’t been properly communicated to the public, by Carruthers and the YRDSB.

There are three options the YRDSB wants the people of Georgina to consider:

  1. Appoint runner up trustee from the last election Cynthia Cardova (Cynthia was the only candidate that ran against Nancy Elgie who resigned earlier last month).
  2. A Consultative appointment which will mean the board would appoint from a select number of candidates
  3.  By-election

Those that do show up should recognize that it is very difficult to remove an incumbent from a position.  So if the board appoints someone, we’re pretty much stuck with that person.  I for one prefer a by-election. I think the people of Georgina need to vet each candidate themselves, rather than having the board do it, and having a good selection of candidates running in a by-election will foster not only interest in the problems we have in our local schools, but also have our voice properly heard and represented at the board, than from some board appointee.  A lot of interest has been generated for this position locally as a result of Nancy Elgie’s resignation.  Choice is a good thing.

Interested residents are asked to go to Sutton High or Keswick High on March 23rd, 2017 between 7:oopm – 8:30pm to let the board know your choice.

 

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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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Serious Questions Remain as York School Board Trustee Steps Down

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(York School Board Trustee Nancy Elgie Tenders Her Resignation via Youtube)

Yesterday York Region District School Board [YRDSB] Trustee Nancy Elgie told her constituents via a Youtube video that she would be stepping down as a Trustee, months after uttering a racial slur by “mistake”.  In the almost 10 minute heavily edited statement on youtube, Elgie stated that the whole situation is a misunderstanding, and she didn’t mean to say those hurtful words to a parent in York Region. Elgie went on to say that there is no “sanction” under employment laws for trustees under which she was investigated and she felt was wrong (Elgie under the employment investigation was ordered to take “equality training” as a sanction). She also stated she didn’t resign immediately because she wanted this to be a teachable moment for the kids and the community.  I fully agree with this being a teachable moment for the community in Georgina, and also within York Region.

Over the past several months there has been a lot of questions as to why the York trustees chose to investigate this matter as one that suits “employment law” rather than the appropriate trustee code of conduct. By treating this incident under employment law, the board and its trustees effectively shielded Elgie from accountability measures that were put into place nearly 14 years ago by the Province of Ontario to deal with trustee conduct (who are publicly elected officials).  Trustees are NOT employed by the board. They are employed by the tax payers of this province and the YRDSB had no authority to make this matter one of employment law.

YRDSB Chair Loralea Carruthers (who is a defeated Liberal candidate in York-Simcoe and long time YRDSB trustee) posted up a statement after a tremendous amount of public pressure was put on the board to follow through with a code of conduct review on Elgie.  Carruthers stated:

The Education Act does provide Trustees with the ability to initiate a Code of Conduct complaint when a colleague commits a breach. The Trustee Code of Conduct process is complex, has limitations, must be conducted in private and its outcome is not always able to be made public. We are unable, under the rules that govern us, to even let the public know if we are proceeding with a Code of Conduct complaint. The process typically takes months, is expensive and, should a breach be confirmed, Trustees are limited in terms of what sanctions can be applied.

If the YRDSB followed through with a code of conduct complaint after Elgie was sanctioned under employment law, the board would have needed to take Elgie to court to argue the board erred in law and sanctions needed to be under the trustee code of conduct. This would have cost the tax payers and the board massive amounts of money had Elgie fought the board legally on this.

Under the trustee code of conduct, not much can be done to sanction a trustee other than short term suspensions.  Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was recently questioned on the lack of “teeth” in the trustee code of conduct, too which her reply was basically – we put that in over 13 years ago, and its better than nothing.  Last year the Ontario Auditor General found the Wynne Liberals gave a $22 million blank cheque to the school unions, and just this month gave teachers across the province a 4% raise.

The huge problem not just the YRDSB is having – but boards across the province – is protectionist behavior.  Protect their own, rather than be held accountable for their mistakes, which continues to this day even when the YRDSB is under investigation.  This should be of great concern to the tax payers of Ontario.

York trustees on February 13th, 2017, one by one urged Elgie to resign, effectively throwing her under the bus to protect the “institution” and once again tried to sweep the misconduct of other trustees who fought to wrongfully protect Elgie from a code of conduct review under the rug.  Wynne has stated in a presser earlier last week that the province has sent in investigators to the YRDSB to uncover why the YRDSB did not follow through with a code of conduct complaint, and to determine if other trustees are in violation of that code of conduct as a result.  Wynne also stated that the investigators she has sent into the YRDSB may make recommendations to the province in order to tighten up and properly sanction trustees around their code of conduct laws.

Now that Elgie has stepped down, the residents of Georgina need to ask themselves; is this cover-up of misconduct by Elgie at the YRDSB an isolated incident?  Over the later part of the week, the Toronto Star was in contact with Elgie, and her family for several days. Several of her constituents came forward to the Star regarding Elgie’s conduct as a trustee.  The Toronto Star over these several days questioned the family and Elgie herself on several situations where she was seen to be dismissive and non-responsive to concerns of the community.  In one instance the Toronto Star brought up:

“Desiree Makuto, whose son was videotaped being beaten and racially taunted by classmates in a high-profile incident at Sutton District High School in 2014, said she called and emailed Elgie for support, to no avail.

“She never did respond — she was surprisingly silent on the issue,” said Makuto. “… She had an obligation, a role to play.”

Elgie’s son Stewart dismissed the concerns of the community stating to the Star:

“these allegations are a disappointing attempt to re-write history and smear the record of a trustee who has earned consistent praise from her colleagues and constituents over the years.”

There was growing pressure for Elgie to step down over the past few months, and her resignation seems to have come following serious questions from the community she serves on her conduct, and leaves serious questions about the conduct of other trustees and the board in its wake.  If we are truly looking to reform the YRDSB, than we must take a good close look at the protectionist behavior these institutions are well known for, and why it’s been allowed to continue in law for so many years while the province has known about the problems of conduct, and developed legislation with nothing meaningful in play to stop it.

As a resident of Georgina in which Elgie has served and parent myself, one can only hope that the members of my community will elect someone who understands that the role of a trustee is to hold the board to account, knows the problems in our local schools, and can properly and effectively advocate for ALL in their constituency. A board meeting will be held on February 21st, 2017 to discuss whether the board will appoint a replacement or rightfully allow the community of Georgina to go to the polls.

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