Four years and two censures later, trustee Rose Tustian announced she will not be seeking re-election for a spot on the School District 78 (SD78) Fraser Cascade board.
The news came in a statement issued by the trustee May 8 in which she lists a “lack of transparency and a disrespectful workplace” as reasons driving the decision to end her 16-year career in public service.
“I will continue to voice my concerns and stand up against bullying, harassment and segregation to ensure trustees, staff and students can experience a safe and respectful workplace,” she stated.
“I will also continue to reach out to the community for input regarding the school district’s significantly large surplus to ensure it is expended fairly between the communities it serves: Agassiz, Boston Bar, Harrison Hot Springs and Hope.”
Board chair Linda Kerr commented via email, writing that the board has concerns for Tustian’s health.
“It impacts us all, because her statements regarding what she describes as disrespectful workplace behaviour have been issued on numerous public occasions,” Kerr stated.
“She has not supplied that same public with any concrete evidence to support her opinion. She has also stated that many of these situations occur in-camera. What she has failed to realize is that, even in a closed meeting, there are witnesses to what is said and done.”
Kerr went on to say that any investigation into the board would prove that it has “behaved with decorum” and allowed Tustian to collect the same stipend as other trustees with a much smaller workload.
“Even with her diminished role, she has been censured twice in the course of a four-year term,” Kerr wrote. “This is unusual and worrisome behaviour, and we are pleased that she has sought help and has made a decision not to continue as a trustee.”
Kerr did not respond to requests for a phone interview on the topic.
Trustee John Koopman spoke up at SD78’s May 8 meeting, responding to Tustian’s comments about bullying and hostility.
“Just because you say it does not make it true,” he said. “Having said that, at any point in time you can initiate an evidentiary process, and if your facts bear witness to the truth, the board can initiate an investigation on your behalf.”
A troublesome term
Tustian’s final four-year term on the SD78 board has been marked with controversy.
The trustee was censured in October 2016 for disparaging comments made in a public meeting regarding an employee of the board.
The ordeal cost the board – in other words, taxpayers – $48,000 in legal fees and investigative costs.
The back and fourth continued when trustees Cindy Ferguson and Heather Stewin joined Tustian in requesting a special advisor review of SD78’s governance in March 2017.
The trio sent a letter to former Minister of Education Mike Bernier, calling the board “severely dysfunctional” and alleging that four trustees consistently voted together to undermine the will of the other three, acting punitively and using censure motions to suppress them.
If such an independent review occurred, the details were not released to the public and Tustian was censured again in January 2018 for disclosing confidential information from in-camera meetings of the board such as personnel decisions, legal proceedings and land issues.
Later that month the trustee announced she would be taking medical leave due to an alleged hostile environment and bullying on the school board.
She said she would be stepping away from the board to care for her physical and mental health, commenting during a January board meeting that “due to negative attention that has continued over the past three years, the stress has built up to a point where I feel working in this toxic environment has taken a toll on my health.”
Of her decision not to run in this year’s election, Tustian wrote that she is happy to move on.
“I am thankful to my community for the honour of five terms – 16 years of public service – that I have been tasked to represent them. It is now time to pass along the baton/position to someone else whom I hope will continue the run and ensure the community’s needs in education are well met in the next election.”
– with files from Emelie Peacock,
Erin Knutson and X.Y. Zeng