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Special advisor blasts Vancouver school board

A provincially appointed special advisor has published her Report on the Vancouver School Board. It is deeply critical on the board on grounds ranging from ethical lapses to sheer incompetence.

The 88-page report by Comptroller General Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland was published at noon today on the Ministry of Education website. Its executive summary goes into detail in pointing out the board's failures:

...The current Vancouver School Board of Trustees’ governance practices and philosophies are not fully consistent with the requirements of the Act to improve student achievement in a fiscally responsible and cost effective manner. The Board of Trustees does not take a balanced approach to its accountabilities, focusing on advocacy at the expense of stewardship.

The majority of the Vancouver School Board trustees see their role relative to the Ministry of Education as one primarily related to advocacy, rather than as “co-governors” of the education system. The effect of this extensive advocacy activity deflects the accountability of the trustees from the overall financial stewardship of the Vancouver School Board.

...The Vancouver School Board had many policies and procedures to promote good conduct and high ethical standards. Notwithstanding these policies and procedures, consistent concerns about the ethical and organizational culture at the Vancouver School Board were strongly evident from our review. These concerns focused on the lack of impartiality of a number of Trustees and a lack of trust, confidence and respect between the Vancouver School Board Trustees and the District Management Team.

...The current Board of Trustees has not demonstrated they have the management capacity to effectively govern the Vancouver School Board or fulfill all of their accountabilities and duties of the Act. This is evidenced by the quality of board discussions, their focus on short term decisions at the expense of long term sustainability, the lack of strategic and long term plans, and an unbalanced focus on advocacy versus financial stewardship, delaying decisions that would see the effective use of existing or available resources.

The Comptroller General’s recommendations seem likely to trigger strong responses from trustees, teachers, parents, and staff.

Among them: “Revisiting the decisions over school closures and consolidation. ... Eliminating the provision of non-core services such as junior kindergarten and providing transportation to students not meeting criteria for transportation. ... Generating more revenue by increasing rental rates. ... Working with its unions and associations to identify areas where concessions can be negotiated to support greater flexibility and more effective use of staff resources for the benefit of students.”

Vancouver School board chair Patti Bacchus was scheduled to hold a press conference at 1:30 p.m. to present the board’s response to the report.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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