Vancouver School Board workplace made toxic by trustee behaviour, report finds

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Superintendent of Vancouver schools announces resignation

A review of the Vancouver School Board ordered by WorkSafeBC has found that the behaviour of individual trustees and the conduct of the board itself played a role in creating a toxic work environment.

"The evidence gathered through this investigation supports the claims that members of this board routinely engaged in conduct toward one another that was uncivil, disrespectful and rude, " wrote report author Roslyn Goldner in her executive summary.

"Such conduct not only affected the ability of the board to function but also affected individuals, who, although not directly the target of the conduct, experienced the stress of a work environment marked by ambient bullying."

Goldner, a labour and employment lawyer, was commissioned to investigate after allegations of bullying and harassment at the VSB were forwarded to WorkSafeBC by B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier. 

By the end of September 2016, the entire six person senior management team of the VSB was on indefinite leave, including superintendent Scott Robinson.

The harassment claims came to light amidst the high profile conflict between the VSB's elected trustees and Bernier over funding and school closures.

Goldner states that actions by certain trustees in relation to the school closures process and the staff recommendations related to that process were "of particular significance."

"By September 2016, it was untenable for members of the senior management team to remain in the workplace," wrote Goldner.

In October 2016, Bernier fired all nine VSB trustees and appointed ministry employee Dianne Turner to replace the entire board.

Goldner also noted a number of "systemic factors that contributed to the development of a toxic work environment at the VSB," including the partisan composition of the board and the lack of consistent role definition among trustees.

In response to the report, Vision Vancouver's elected VSB trustees Joy Alexander, Patti Bacchus, Mike Lombardi and Allan Wong issued a statement that read in part:

"We treated all VSB staff with respect and courtesy and we did not participate in or witness workplace bullying or harassment ... We continue to be concerned by the political interference in the democratic process by the provincial government as a way to deflect from its neglect of public education."

Vision Vancouver's response

Former trustee calls for release of full report

In an interview with On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko, Lombardi called for the full report to be released so trustees could defend themselves against any allegations made about them as individuals. Friday only saw the release of parts of it.

"I want to know what the details are," he said. "To me, it's incredible trustees can be charged with an allegation without any substantiation. ... I feel very bad for the rest of my trustee group who now have a smear on them without any evidence whatsoever of something having occurred or being alleged."

He also says at the time the VSB was under "incredible" stress in the face of budget constraints and cuts ordered from the province.

Lombardi called for the minister of education to call an immediate byelection for the Vancouver School Board's vacant seats, which he says he intends to run in.

In a statement, the VSB wrote it is preparing a redacted copy of the report for release that will comply with privacy laws.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

To hear the interview with Mike Lombardi, click the audio labelled: Vancouver School Board workplace made toxic by trustee behaviour, report finds