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.
(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.
(Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne Likely To Read From A Blank Book On School Board Accountability)
Over the past few months, the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) in Ontario has been embroiled in controversy surrounding governance, accountability, and racial tensions. The governing Liberal Party of Ontario promised to get to the bottom of these systemic issues at the YRDSB by appointing two “arm’s length” investigators to the board to look at recommendations on how to solve systemic issues, rather than using the independent Provincial Ombudsman who in 2015 was given the legal authority and jurisdiction to look at the specific issues the YRDSB investigators have been tasked to look at. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals who have a long history of throwing blank cheques at the education unions are all that serious about systemic change at the YRDSB which would require legislation with the ability to hold those in the system to account.
Two weeks into getting the investigation set up, the YRDSB investigators (Patrick Case + Suzanne Herbert), are already hearing from a staggering number of parents. These two investigators appointed by the province seem to be ill-equipped to handle the sheer volume of complaints coming in, to which the province’s ombudsman would have been better equipped to handle. I had a conversation with Patrick Case on twitter yesterday. Here is that conversation:
Both Case and Herbert are widely connected to the education sector in Ontario. Herbert was a deputy minister in Ontario, including deputy of education (way to close to government for my liking), while Case served as former trustee for the Toronto District School Board which has had its fair share of problems. While I don’t question these investigators credibility to pin the vast majority of problems with board governance on YRDSB Director J. Philip Parappally and a few “rouge” trustees implementation of more equality training board wide, and quietly sweep this controversy under the rug to avoid any drafting of accountability legislation to deal with systemic problems province wide; I do not see how this investigation would be beneficial to the kids the public education sector serves. The only beneficiary to this investigation as it stands right now would be the education unions who have deeply embedded themselves in Wynne’s government.
Racial intolerance in any profession or work place is wrong, against our values as Canadians, and most importantly against our civil rights in the charter of rights and freedoms. One of the root causes for racial intolerance at the YRDSB is the lack of accountability on staff, directors, trustees. It’s a symptom of a much larger problem in the province. The lack of accountability in the education sector is province wide, and if we are truly looking to send a message that racial intolerance is not accepted in our public school system, than it is law and legislation with teeth that is needed to hold those in the education system to account, not non-binding “recommendations” from a rushed, arm’s length investigation.
A much better more responsible approach would be to slow down, allow the community to appropriately respond to identify systemic issues, and ensure that the investigation is done in an independent way, rather than recommendations that in the end will duck any real legislative accountability and favor political donors over that of our school children due to the closeness of the investigators to the legislative process. To do otherwise would only serve to pass the buck to the next school board to have issues due to the lack of legislative accountability, and put more of our children across the province at further risk.
(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.
As many of you may remember I wrote an open letter to the Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services Micheal Coteau regarding some concerns I had with the transition process, and with my son’s situation. I was hoping for a direct response from Minister Coteau instead I received this (sorry for the chicken scratch, this is the number of the individual from the ministry that wrote this letter. I was hung up on 3 times by the contact they gave me before I got to the program manager):
For a Minister willing to meet with parents, Coteau seems extremely illusive to direct communication with those who are trying to reach him. Apparently we’re getting busy signals. As for my sons situation, apparently IBI still ends at 5 accounting to Cantkier, and she is unwilling to budge on giving my son the appropriate therapy he has been recommended by specialists and other medical professionals. More soon.
The Toronto Star recently sat down with the Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau to discuss changes being made to autism services in Ontario. A common theme is starting to emerge over the past few months since the announcement of the new Ontario Autism Program. The way the process for “change” has presented itself, could see catastrophic consequences going forward as a result of tight budget constraints, lack of transparency and consultation needed to identify problems, analyze the system on whole and come up with sustainable solutions. The end result will be a number of children and families caught in the cross-fire and shoved aside as collateral damage.
In the interview with the Star Coteau stated:
“My job now is to deliver a program that will be considered the best program in this country”
Also from the Toronto Star article:
“It’s going to be tough transforming a system overnight,” Coteau said. “This is what I’ve been mandated to do by the premier. It’s what’s required and we’re going to get it done.”
If the goal is to create a system that is the best in the country, it cannot be done “overnight”.
There are two ways of fixing problems in any system.
1) Crisis Management
2) Structured Problem Solving and Analysis
If you try to solve problems that arise in complex systems on a case by case basis, others arise as a result of trying to solve those problems. You fix those, and more will pop up. It becomes a web of problems in large part because the extent of the problems within the system when you are using a crisis management type of approach is not known. You are not looking at the system as a whole. It’s a “whack-a-mole” type of approach where you only look at the problems you’re facing, you don’t analyze the system to anticipate problems, and develop solutions to lessen the effects of catastrophic damage that will likely occur if you don’t know the extent of the problems within the system as a whole. The end result if Coteau continues with a crisis management case by case strategy are kids falling through the cracks (like mine) and the system will end up in a much worse position than it was prior to the announcement.
Structured problem solving on the other hand, allows a much broader look into the system through analysis. Since the Auditor General’s 2013 report on autism services there hasn’t been any call for a public consultation from the government, just tightly controlled committees looking only at small pockets of the system, and the government hand picking what it wants to sell through those committee reports. The users of that system are way more knowledgeable of the problems within it because they are the ones dealing with it on a day to day basis, and you can’t have an accurate picture of the problems without first broadly consulting the users.
The system as a whole needs to be revamped. The government has stated it’s committed to that, but their actions to date seem to suggest otherwise. The expert committee laid down a path for forward, which the government is still refusing to follow because they don’t seem to want to commit the needed funds. That’s quite clear on the fact that Coteau is still steadfast on only providing expensive intensive behavior intervention therapy to kids under 5, which the expert panel has since refuted as being anything but their recommendation. The experts have also been muzzled by the government in participating in any public conversations on this public policy. That runs counter to the mandate Coteau has been given, when open public participation in the democratic process should be facilitated if the goal is to make the system rise above others nationally.
The path forward should include broad system wide open and public consultation with parents and people within the system who are the users of the system and the most valuable part of the system on whole in order to provide a complete picture of the problems within it, along with complete transparency so that the experts and the implementation committee can publicly contribute to this public conversation and consultation. Simply selecting a few hand picked people will not represent the extent of the problems, nor provide proper analysis. Putting any kind of muzzle on these people strongly suggests the government is anything but committed to doing what’s necessary to make the system the best in the country.
The proper way to deal with this in which the experts alluded too in their letter to the Minister, back a few weeks after the announcement of the new program, is to first start out testing the any new changes to system first as a “pilot project”, or in analytical terms, alpha and beta testing. I would add that alpha and beta testing commence after proper public consultation with users of the system and a proper plan has been developed as a result of those consultations. This gives the government the chance to test changes made to complex systems in a controlled environment to lessen the effects of problems limiting any damage the system might occur as a result. This does NOT happen “overnight”!
If you’ve done open consultations with the users and know the full extent of the problems, you can anticipate those problems moving forward. You need to first analyze the effects on the system in a controlled environment, work through the problems, and slowly expand those changes out, repeating the process. In a complex system like autism supports, it can take upwards of 2 years or more to fully role out. Open consultation with the users again has not happened, and Coteau has no idea of the extent of the problems in the current system because he is focusing on small samples of the user base.
Simply rolling out changes to complex systems “overnight” without knowing the extent of the problems within it it, due to lack of consultation will create a tremendous amount of collateral damage, as the government is only interested in saving face and on a budget, rather than seriously looking at a massive systemic and sustainable change, and realizing this is about children not politics. I’m sorry Mr. Coteau, but it is unacceptable in my books to use autistic children as collateral damage while your government plays politics and tries to cover up the extent of the damage you’ve already created since March by ignoring the advice of your own expert panel, and refusing to broadly consult with parents across this province which continues to this day.
The only good news is that Coteau is now looking at placing accountability mechanisms on regional service providers, and looking at their budgets. Reallocating money within the system is a step forward, but will likely not produce the funds needed to restructure the system on whole, nor cover the costs of collateral damage that has and is about to occur as a result of the lack of consultations and understanding of the problems that will inevitably be serious moving forward.
So my message to my fellow autism parents if the status quo in the current process is allowed to continue:
“Brace yourselves, the new Ontario Autism Program is coming.” Expect massive problems and collateral damage.
We need a commitment to an open and transparent process, and one that has a flexible budget, if Coteau is at all serious in delivering his mandate of creating a system of autism supports that can be looked upon as one of the best in the country. Not one child should fall victim to collateral damage as a result of political games being played by the Wynne Liberals to save face and a few bucks. A lot already have as a result of how Wynne has handled this. The government has a moral and ethical obligation to openly and transparently consult with stakeholders during this “transition” phase to ensure that no child is left behind when the new program is rolled out “overnight”.