Sunday, March 5, 2017

Workplace Bullying at the Vancouver School Board

Report says bullying led to a toxic work environment at Vancouver School Board #vsb #workplacebullying

An external investigation at the Vancouver School Board found evidence of bullying, but information released to the public Friday morning contained no specifics about who the bully was or any particular incidents. 

The investigation by Roslyn Goldner found there was bullying at the board level, that the behaviour of certain trustees was “uncivil, disrespectful and rude,” and that systemic factors contributed to a “toxic work environment.” 

Goldner said the allegation that certain trustees “threw the staff under the bus” was “an apt descriptor.”

The allegations of bullying were made last fall, when the elected trustees were fired from the board for not passing a balanced budget and six senior district staff members — including the superintendent and secretary-treasurer — went on medical leave at the same time. All of this happened at the same time as tense and highly charged public meetings were underway about the possible closing of 11 Vancouver schools. At that time, trustees had also refused to pass a budget calling for $21.8 million in cuts, but staff were forced to implement the cuts anyway. 

VSB’s official trustee Dianne Turner, who replaced the fired school trustees in October, said the full report was “one of the most difficult things I’ve read,” adding “it is unacceptable that the senior staff were not provided a safe and respectful environment.”

Only the executive summary was released Friday, but acting secretary treasurer Guy Bonnefoy said a redacted version of the report will be released upon request under freedom of information and protection of privacy legislation.

Goldner found there was both “ambient bullying” between trustees and direct bullying and harassment of staff by trustees. 

“I find that the conduct of the board breached the requirement to provide employees with an emotionally safe and respectful work environment,” Goldner writes.

The partisan composition of the board, its governance model and a lack of consistent role definition among trustees were systemic problems that played a role, she says. 

Former Green trustee Janet Fraser said she did sometimes see “disrespectful” behaviour by trustees towards staff members. In particular, she noted that at a public meeting about school closures some responses by staff to questions from trustees were responded to in a “very disrespectful” manner. 

“It was a highly emotionally charged meeting. There were hundreds of people in the audience who were very upset about the possibility their school could be closed,”  Fraser said. “The board was unanimous in its decision making, but it was  certainly a very difficult, intense situation.” 

Former school board chairman Mike Lombardi and former Vision trustee Allan Wong both said they are disappointed the report doesn’t contain any specific allegations or names because it is difficult to respond to or learn from the situation without specifics. 

“There were nine trustees on the board. Who knows who they are talking about? This smears all trustees,” Lombardi said, adding he would like to see specific allegations that identify the source of those allegations and who the allegation was against. 

Former trustee Patti Bacchus said she never saw any bullying by trustees and none was reported to her by senior management when she was a trustee. 

“It’s a concern that anyone would feel bullied or harassed. That is a serious issue,” she said. “We did feel we were under pressure from government and senior management to close schools. We decided to suspend that process, and I still think it is the right decision.” 

Former NPA trustee Stacy Robertson said he is not surprised by the findings, as the NPA raised the same concerns prior to being fired. 

“These are serious issues and we look forward to the … release of both the internal VSB and WorkSafe B.C. reports,” Robertson said in an e-mail.

Last fall, the NPA said there was “toxic dysfunction” at the VSB and that the board “failed to create a positive, respectful work environment for the district’s senior staff.”

In particular, the NPA mentioned actions by other trustees such as demanding the board wait for 2016 census data before deciding to close schools, questioning the validity of the consultation process for school closures and demanding a report on population projections by the city rather than relying on VSB staff’s projections.

Both the VSB investigation and the WorkSafe B.C. investigations into the alleged bullying are now complete, Education Minister Mike Bernier said in a statement. He added that he has great confidence in the work of VSB staff and the official appointed trustee. 

WorkSafe B.C. accepts Goldner’s findings and found the VSB investigation to be compliant with WorkSafe B.C. policies. WorkSafe B.C. has also concluded its own investigation, but the results of that are not being released publicly. 

Bonnefoy said the full report is in the process of being redacted to protect the privacy of everyone involved, but the executive summary was released now due to the intense public interest. 

*   An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Goldner report had been released to complainants and respondents. The report has not been released.

Timeline of Events (provided by Vancouver School Board)

Sept. 25 –  Secretary-Treasurer Russell Horswill commences indefinite leave.
Sept. 27– Superintendent Scott Robinson commences indefinite leave.
Sept. 29 -VSB Trustees appoints Steve Cardwell as Acting Superintendent and Rick Krowchuk as Acting Secretary Treasurer. Entire senior management team now on idefinite leave.
Sept. 29 – Minister Bernier forwards the letter from the president of the BC School Superintendents Association (BCSSA), which outlines concerns for the welfare of VSB members of the BCSSA, to WorkSafeBC “because of its jurisdiction regarding bullying and harassment in the workplace.”
Oct. 3 – WorkSafe B.C. rules require VSB to investigate the allegations of bullying and harassment in the workplace.
Oct. 12 – Steve Cardwell confirms the engagement of Roslyn Goldner of Goldner Law Corporation to conduct an independent investigation, in accordance with the district’s Harassment in the Workplace policy and WorkSafeBC’s requirements for employer investigations.
October – WorkSafe B.C. begins its own investigation of the allegations at VSB.
Oct. 17 – Minister Bernier replaces the Vancouver School Board trustees with Dianne Turner as the Official Trustee. The Board was replaced for failing to pass a balanced budget.
Oct. 18 – Acting Superintendent Steve Cardwell and Acting Secretary Treasurer Rick Krowchuk depart the VSB.
Nov. 3 – Trustee Dianne Turner appoints John Lewis as Acting Superintendent and Guy Bonnefoy as Interim Secretary-Treasurer.
January – Superintendent Scott Robinson returns to work on a gradual re-entry. All senior staff now back at work.
Feb. 20 – Ms. Goldner submits her external investigation report to VSB.
Feb. 21 – WorkSafe B.C. issues an order to the VSB to provide the Goldner Report for inspection.
Mar. 2 – WorkSafe B.C. issues an inspection report, which confirms that the report from Ms. Goldner met their criteria and the findings are aligned with WorkSafe B.C.’s investigation. This inspection report contains orders requiring VSB to adhere to its policies on harassment and bullying.
Mar. 3 – VSB provides the Executive Summary of the Goldner Report to complainants and respondents, and releases the Executive Summary publicly.


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