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Trustees’ letter to education minister highlights 4-3 split in SD78 board

Three trustees call the board "severely dysfunctional."
Trustee Rose Tustian (first woman on left) addresses the Fraser-Cascade School District 78 board at the Feb. 21 meeting.

Trustees Cindy Ferguson, Rose Tustian and Heather Stewin have sent a letter to the Minister of Education Mike Bernier asking him to appoint a special advisor to review Fraser-Cascade School District 78's governance.

The letter, shared by Tustian to The Standard, asks that a special advisor be appointed to listen to all trustees, review details of decisions taken by the board, examine the in-camera and public meetings and report to the trustees and Bernier on his findings.

The letter also reveals details not previously known to the public and outlines reasons as to why they think the board is “severely dysfunctional.”

A major part of the problem, as the letter alleges, lies in four trustees “consistently” voting against three trustees to hinder their ability to execute their trusteeships and sometimes to act punitively against the minority.

“The division is beyond mere differences in opinion,” said the letter.

Their first piece of evidence came from the Feb. 21 board meeting. Trustees voted on two motions — one to get a special advisor to review the board's governance and another to have items moved from the in-camera closed meeting to the open meeting. Those were defeated 4-3.

Then, the letter highlights how censures are used against trustees in the same 4-3 pattern. The letter talked about the case of Tustian, who was the last publicly-known trustee to be censured.

“The censure motion was supported by the same 'majority' trustees and we believe that it was motivated by political considerations,” said Tustian.

The letter added that the board decided 4-3 to report the details of the grievance, censure of Tustian and the cost of $55,000 to taxpayers even though confusion still mars the “yet unresolved” grievance and the process of the censure.

“Grievances are ... not subject to public review. Individuals are not named. However, in this case, the complainant was identified,” said the letter. “Also, the (union) representative, during the public meeting of the board, was invited to question and comment on the grievance.”

It added that although an investigator was contracted, the censure was handled internally.

The letter also brought up two items that have not been reported including that the board is in the process of censuring another trustee and that either Ferguson, Tustian or Stewin has had her stipend reduced.

The board decided to disallow expenses after they had been incurred for professional development, and then to deduct the amount from the trustee's stipend. The letter argues that those expenses complied with the board's rules.

Asked for comment, board chair Linda Kerr said that she cannot speak on behalf of the board until they meet to consider the letter.

The letter has also been copied to SD78 board members, the president of the B.C. Schools Trustee Association and Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness.

“This is a matter for the voters of School District 78 to settle, and voters who are concerned about it should let those concerns be known,” wrote Throness in an email. “But if the Province could play a helpful role by providing an objective third party to bring out truth so that reconciliation could take place, I’d support that.”

The Standard was unable to get a comment from Bernier.