YRDSB Leadership Crisis Builds As True Cost of Trustee By-Election Not Known
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.
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.