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Winnipeg School Division needs much change, prof reports

July 9, 2015 — 

John Wiens, Dean Emeritus and professor in the Faculty of Education, has released his blunt and damning report “Winnipeg School Division Governance Review Final Report“. He calls for much change in how things operate to take place by Dec. 31. The report supplies 22 recommendations.

The report’s executive summary

Winnipeg School Division Board of Trustees and the Division Office is a house multiply divided. While there are some historical roots of this division, I have come to the conclusion that this is neither an inevitable, necessary nor helpful state of affairs. It is my sincere hope that this Review report will contribute to significantly improving the situation by increasing the understanding, resolve and optimism of all in working toward not a final solution, but a commitment and a path of reconciliation and human solidarity in the interest of the education of the children and young people in the Division.

The lines of division are complex and continuously shifting but, in general terms, they consist of layers of mistrust and seemingly irreconcilable differences:

  • between individual trustees
  • between small, sometimes temporary, alliances of some trustees and other trustees;
  • between the Board, trustees and senior administration; and,
  • between, and among, senior administration.

These divisions are caused by role confusion between governance and administration, competing visions of politics and education, contradictory policies and By-laws, inappropriate practices and conduct and overall lack of due diligence in all the above areas.

At the risk of sounding patronizing, the good news is that the School Board is made up of highly intelligent, community-minded trustees deeply committed to making a positive difference in the education of children and young people. Equally good news is the fact that the senior administrative staff are, as a group, as committed to the same goal and are, in fact, more than competent to work toward its achievement. Furthermore, both groups are very loyal to Winnipeg School Division. Thus, it remains to be seen if the recommendations I make can help reduce or eliminate some of the current tensions and dysfunctions. As things stand now, it will take an extraordinary collective effort involving a combination of good will, compromise, reconciliation and resolve.

I believe that, if the collective will can be garnered toward what are already existing common purposes, it is possible to create both effective governance and efficient administration even in these difficult circumstances with their multiple challenges. It is this belief that encouraged me to be, in some cases, brutally honest and, in others, optimistically speculative.

I also believe, just as strongly, that’s what going on right now in the bright glare of the public is embarrassing, shameful, and reckless, extremely detrimental to the Division and the very idea of Boards of Trustees. If this group of people cannot find the resolve and the means to get their act together by December 31, 2015, the Minister should replace them with an Official Trustee as allowed for under The Public Schools Act.

-John R. Wiens, PhD., Reviewer

The report’s recommendations


RECOMMENDATION 1 That the Board begin the practice of holding in-camera meetings prior to regular meetings; That all decisions requiring action be introduced in open session at the earliest opportunity; and That all decisions be made public through normal communication channels as soon as possible after they are made.

RECOMMENDATION 2 That the Board and Superintendent/CEO keep a running record of all inappropriate language and unacceptable behaviour at all meetings of the Board, and that that record name the trustee(s) engaging in such behaviour and the action of the Board to curtail it, and that the record be signed off by the Board Chair and Superintendent/CEO and kept on file by the Secretary-Treasurer for the duration of a particular Board’s time in office.

RECOMMENDATION 3 That the Board require trustees to file a written monthly report of activities undertaken by each trustee as a member of the Board, including who they met with, for what purposes they met and, if they chose to meet outside the usual meeting structure, why they chose to do so; and, Similarly, that each trustee file a written monthly report of activities undertaken on behalf of the Board, like school visitations, community events and parent council meeting attendance.

RECOMMENDATION 4 That the Board, at its earliest opportunity, upgrade its recording capabilities to ensure that, at the very least, it has an audio record of all regular Board meetings and so that all meetings records can be digitally archived; and, That the Division website be reviewed to make it more user-friendly to accessing up-to-date Division information.

RECOMMENDATION 5 That the agendas for all meetings of the Board be prepared collaboratively by the Board Chair, or Vice-Chair in the absence of the Chair, and the Superintendent/CEO or his/her designate; and, That they jointly determine what information the Board is to be provided with in order to make decisions on the matters at hand; and, That the agendas for all Committee meetings be prepared collaboratively by the Committee Chair and the Superintendent/CEO or her/his designate, jointly determining what information is required for consideration by Committee members.

RECOMMENDATION 6 That the Board revisit its Board meeting seating arrangements, attendance requirements and rules of engagement, with a mind to signalling and achieving a more respectful inclusion of senior administration in Board proceedings and considerations; and, That the Board review its Committee structure and procedures to consider how the Committees might make more efficient use of trustee and staff time.

RECOMMENDATION 7 That the Board immediately review its roles and responsibilities under The Public Schools Act, and discuss how its individual and collective practices must change in order to align them with the Act, particularly those regarding acting and speaking on behalf of the Board.

RECOMMENDATION 8 That the Board Policies and By-laws be reviewed to bring them into line with the letter and spirit of The Public Schools Act and The Education Administration Act regarding Duties of School Boards.

RECOMMENDATION 9 That the trustees be given as equal as possible school liaison assignments, both within their wards, but also throughout the whole Division; and, That these be publicized at the beginning of each school year and be reviewed annually to determine whether Board protocols are being followed and these assignments are beneficial and worthwhile; and That a report be prepared annually by the Board Chair and Superintendent/CEO detailing trustee liaison activity; and, That none of the above prevent any trustee from participating in any Board sanctioned activity in any school or any school community.

RECOMMENDATION 10 That a running record be kept, under the auspices of the Superintendent/CEO, of all trustee referrals to the senior administration and the dispensation of same.

RECOMMENDATION 11 That a running record be kept, under the auspices of the Superintendent/CEO, of all violations of the administrative and communicative protocols outlined in the Board By-laws.

RECOMMENDATION 12 That all trustees be required to use the Winnipeg School Division email system for their email communications.

RECOMMENDATION 13 That all forms of differential treatment of trustees by the Division cease immediately.

RECOMMENDATION 14 That Trustee Babinsky be ordered, by Board motion, to immediately cease and desist from conduct unbecoming a trustee, providing him with a letter outlining examples of unacceptable past actions and behaviours such as: the use of profanity and name calling, impugning staff by intimating ulterior motives, maligning other trustees and staff publicly and privately, disclosing private information to the public, inviting a young person into his vehicle, following a school bus causing undue discomfort to the bus driver, attending to school board property surreptitiously, and the like and, That the Board use all legal means at its disposal to curtail Trustee Babinsky’s unacceptable conduct and behaviour whenever it occurs, not allowing any incident to go unaddressed, including means like motions of suppression, recording and filing all violations, censure, denying the right to participate in certain matters, limited access to buildings or parts of buildings, suspension (repeated, if necessary), and public inquiries. At any further offence, that the Board consider taking the strongest action available to them under the law, that of suspension with removal of privileges and honorarium.

RECOMMENDATION 15 That all out-of-scope employees be offered, and signed to, individual employment contracts at the earliest possible opportunity.

RECOMMENDATION 16 That evaluations of senior administrators be completed by October 31, 2015 as per lines of responsibility and authority, and that the Superintendent/CEO report to the Board when they are up-to-date, and, subsequently, that all senior administrators be evaluated at least every two years.

RECOMMENDATION 17 That the Superintendent/CEO be evaluated by the Board at least every two years, and that appropriate input into the evaluation be sought from those in the system deemed able to provide reasonable and responsible input.

RECOMMENDATION 18 That the Board immediately outline a protocol for trustee movement into and within the work area of the Division Office, and the individual offices of employees, to ensure a safe and respectful workplace environment.

RECOMMENDATION 19 That the Superintendent/CEO and the Board act immediately on any employee complaints of workplace harassment by a trustee.

RECOMMENDATION 20 That the Board request the Superintendent/CEO to immediately provide a rationale for, the purposes of and the processes for undertaking a restructuring of the senior administration; and That she also be requested to, at the earliest opportunity, undertake a review of the Division Office workplace culture and provide a comprehensive report on how to reduce the culture of fear and unease which persists at the upper levels; and, That she be authorized to employ all reasonably available and necessary resources to assist her in this task.

RECOMMENDATION 21 That the Board revisit its Budget and audit processes to ensure that they are appropriately open and current, including the discretionary limits and expenditures of the Superintendent/CEO.

RECOMMENDATION 22 That the Board continue with its orientation to Board and trustee responsibilities, and establish a planning cycle which includes at least annual “retreats” to revisit priorities, principles, practices and continuously update their divisional plans, something which will assist them in carrying out their major responsibilities of educational governance, policy development, and financial stewardship.


One comment on “Winnipeg School Division needs much change, prof reports

  1. D Grant

    How many other board and governing councils operate with as many problems? I have seen this level of trouble at other ‘boards’ and no action to fix them. I am very impressed that this review was done, and that with media attention, this may be fixed in a few months! How about UofM asking other governed entities to review their boards like this?

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