Posts Tagged YRDSB

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have a few questions I would like to ask.

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

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

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

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

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

Warm Regards,

Jason Koblovsky

 

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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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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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