• Carmen Marie Fabio

LBPSB Ethics scandal riles council meeting attendees


PHOTO BY CARMEN MARIE FABIO

After being banned from speaking at the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) public meetings for three years, retired teacher and outspoken LBPSB critic Chris Eustace calls for the resignation of Chair Suanne Stein Day following the findings of the board’s Ethic’s Commissioner.

Despite myriad voices calling for the resignation of the chair of the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB), Suanne Stein Day was adamant in insisting she would not step down, despite the recent revelation she had violated the board’s own code of ethics on three separate occasions.

The news broke soon after troubles at the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) saw a letter issued to Chair Angela Mancini citing a lack of support and recognition directed towards administration, accusing elected commissioners of meddling.

On the morning of Wednesday, November 30, it was announced at the National Assembly that Québec Education Minister Sébastien Proulx has appointed an auditor to look into management of both the LBPSB and the EMSB, citing irregularities in education issues and certification of students. Minister Proulx also confirmed the Unité permanente anticorruption (UPAC) is investigating.

In front of about 50 attendees at the November 28 monthly Council of Commissioners meeting in Dorval, Stein Day revealed she was the councillor in question who, in a report issued by Ethics Commissioner Vincent Guida, had been accused of ethics’ breaches that reportedly included “not showing respectful behaviour to colleagues” and “spreading salacious gossip about colleagues involving sex and misappropriated funds.”

“If I’ve offended (my team) in any way, then I have – and do again – sincerely apologize to them without qualification,” Stein Day read from a prepared statement at the beginning of the meeting. She went on to dispute allegations that following complaints made against her, board employees had been demoted or reassigned. “The chair does not have any power to hire, fire, reassign, or demote anyone. We all, however, fully support the extremely difficult decisions this board has had to make over the past year.”

Her words did nothing to assuage the hostility in the audience as critics from retired teachers, taxpayers, and governing board members approached the microphone to express their concerns and demands for her resignation.

Teacher representative Heidi Yetman addressed council, saying, “As an educator, we teach kids critical thought and how to become good citizens in this society. And unfortunately, there’s been a dark cloud hanging over the building. It worries me because it harms our reputation as teachers.” Yetman stressed the need for transparency in public education and said, moving forward, that she hoped communication would be more open and that teachers would be getting the “truth” from the board.

Former teacher Luc Horne chose to address his comments to the student commissioners by saying they were there to ostensibly learn how a council was supposed to be run. “What I have seen over the last few years is that things are not always what they seem to be when nice, composed words are expressed at the meeting, saying everything is alright, and ‘we will do our best and continue.’” Horne said while it was common for commissioners to present a unified front, it did not indicate a consensus amongst the elected representatives.

“Madame Chair, in the overriding spirit of the Quebec education act, considering the current tumultuous atmosphere at the LBPSB, I am herewith formally requesting, as a taxpayer, your resignation from your position as the LBPSB Chairman.”

Following a three-year ban on speaking at the LBPSB council meetings, outspoken school board critic and former school teacher Chris Eustace was given permission to address council and voiced perhaps the most vocal opposition to Stein Day’s refusal to step down.

“Madame Stein Day, pay back all the taxpayers’ money you used to pay your own lawyer, to threaten all these commissioners here, and me last year,” he said of the reported $80,000 spent on her defense. Eustace further asked each commissioner be individually polled to reveal their level of confidence in Stein Day as chair, and for her to immediately resign.

“What you have done is wrecked the school board, and wrecked the community, all because of your arrogance, extravagance, and negligence,” he said, waving a sign with the word ‘Resign’ printed in large red letters. “You’re teaching the student commissioners all the wrong things and that’s why the Ethics Commissioner found you at fault.”

Attendees who took the microphone continued to voice opposition to Stein Day’s decision to stay. Verdun Elementary School Governing Board member John Ranger said he did not accept Stein Day’s opening speech. “Don’t you understand the word ‘accountability’?” he asked. “You can’t just sit there and ignore what’s going on. I need to know that these very systemic problems that are coming out are not going to reoccur,” while retired teacher John Wilson said, in quoting English politician Oliver Cromwell, “You’ve sat here too long to do any good. You’ve dishonoured this place and, in the name of God, go.”

In addressing assembled media outside the meeting room, Stein Day refused to go into further detail on the nature of the ethics breaches, citing confidentiality. When asked how the board could move forward in light of the hostile response of the attendees, Stein Day said she had the support of every one of the commissioners and administration.

“We’re going to move forward in a respectful manner,” she said. “I did not commit any wrongdoing, legally or morally. It was just a matter of understanding better my role (as chair) and my dealings with administration.”

When asked if she had bullied people or overstepped her powers, Stein Day replied, “I don’t believe so.”

The sole voice or support willing to speak at the meeting came from a board staff member and school integration aid Claire Campbell. “Every one of these people has made mistakes,” she said. “To condemn her for having made a mistake I feel, in my heart, is beyond acceptable. Does everyone who makes a mistake deserve to lose their job?”

Soon after stating she committed no wrongdoing, legally or morally, Stein Day said, moving forward, she hopes to learn from her mistakes but will not step down, and fully intends to fulfill her mandate.

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