The investigation by Roslyn Goldner on allegations of a toxic work environment is not at all conclusive, and is itself controversial. The report is flawed on several bases.
First of all, it was prepared by a lawyer, when the issues really should have been investigated by a workplace psychologist: someone who has better credentials for understanding workplace dynamics.
Second, the report is written from a biased point of view. Most of the incidents that it cites as evidence of a toxic work environment relate to activism by Vision trustees on behalf of citizens. In emphasizing these incidents as negative impacts, the report takes a position on the role of a school board, preferring a “stewardship model” to an advocacy model of board responsibility.
Although the report doesn’t detail what is meant by stewardship, one can only assume the definition to include fiduciary responsibility to Ministry of Education policy –in other words, a sycophantic obedience to superiors rather than a bold representation of the desires of the electorate. To that end, Goldner failed to investigate the financial pressures imposed by the Ministry of Education that were the toxin that saturated the whole process.
Furthermore, the report accepts the findings of an audit by Earnst and Young ipso facto rather than considering audit itself as a likely stressor in the work environment. As the Earnst and Young audit was the second audit in as many years inflicted by the Ministry of Education, it is itself a form of bullying that was not addressed at all in Goldner.
The report finds that unlike past school boards, the current board was particularly problematic, but then it fails to describe how the board had changed in composition.
Board trustee Patti Bacchus’ behaviour is repeatedly mentioned in the report as an example of the “bullying” inflicted on the District employees, but Bacchus has been a constant on past boards. The report fails to delve into this issue.
Bullying breeds bullying. If one wants to truly understand the source of bullying, one must investigate far more thoroughly. The report’s failure to provide a context for the alleged bullying must be at least in part attributable to Goldner’s lack of expertise in psychology.
Another problem with the report is its constant negative reference to political agendas of board members. It’s understandable that respondents to the investigation pointed out how board governance was mired in political agendas, but the report fails to disambiguate these agendas.
Agendas are based on belief systems and therefore, they are necessarily political. Agendas are at the heart of policymaking. The trustees were elected based on their stated beliefs, and were required, therefore, to try and influence policy according to those beliefs.
The Vision candidates, who are presented negatively in this report, had an agenda that was at odds with the policy of the current Ministry of Education. Therefore, their mandate was necessarily activist. It was easy for the NPA trustees to present themselves with more equanimity in such a climate. They enjoyed the privilege of being in agreement with the Ministry.
The report connotes democratic activism and disagreement as a negative force. Certainly the political situation was heated. Certainly the School Board employees were placed in a difficult if not impossible position. But this investigation, while being able to point to the symptoms of a toxic work environment, fails to get to the underlying cause.
To get to the cause, Goldner needed to go deeper. She needed to identify the realpolitik that was infecting the education system. She needed to consider the pressure brought to trustees by parents angry at the imminent closures of their children’s schools. She needed acknowledge the anger of teachers, and the frustration of the electorate engendered by the unconstitutional behaviour of government, both of which were stressors on senior staff as well as trustees.
Instead, her report is myopic. It points fingers at well-meaning people who were jealously trying to protect the school system from further decimation by a government bent on privatizing education.