Dysfunction, incompetence plague York Region District School Board

Something’s rotten in York – and no trustee needs to fly off to exotic locales on professional development junkets to figure that out

teachersTORONTO, Ont. Feb. 22, 2017 /Troy Media/ – Don’t say the N-word in York, the community north of Toronto. They don’t want to hear it.

No, not that N-word. The other one.


Until last week, Nancy Elgie was a trustee with the York Region District School Board. She had to resign her position after she called a black parent the N-word.

No, not Nancy. The other N-word.

Elgie’s resignation comes after weeks of public pressure from parents, teachers, trustees – even the provincial minister of Education – that she quit.

In her apology, Elgie, 82, blamed a recent head trauma for her foul mouth – the concussion must have knocked that ugly word loose.

Now that Elgie has removed herself as an embarrassment and a distraction, the school board can move on to other embarrassments and distractions.

And York Region has plenty of them.

Chief among them is a plague of racism. Provincial investigators sent to York following Elgie’s N-bomb reported being “overwhelmed” with complaints of hate directed at Muslims and other minorities. The rot is so bad that one investigator said the investigation might last forever.

Another problem is the board’s predilection for secrecy around spending. Last year, multiple administrators and trustees – including Elgie – jetted back and forth to Holland. For what reason and at what cost, the board would not say.

At least the board recognizes it has problems and needs stability. After all, stability is the reason why the board signed its director of education, J. Philip Parappally, to a 10-year contract with an annual salary of $268,000 a year. That decision was itself a scandal. Normally, school boards offer four-year contracts. Parappally got 10 years – 10! – despite having little experience in a high-level position.

Stability has, for now, eluded Parappally.

The disturbances at York rightfully upset those who care about public education. And raise questions.

  • At a time when we are saturated with messages about inclusivity and the strength of diversity, how can York’s school board run so afoul of common sense, decency and wisdom? Is the inclusivity training ineffective or are certain people responding in the negative to attitudes about diversity they don’t like?
  • And how is it possible for York’s school board to keep its finances secret? In 2012, the board spent $130,000 to send administrators on professional development junkets in Finland, New Zealand and London. How much did they spend in 2016? Bizarrely, that’s still secret.

Something’s rotten in York – and no trustee needs to fly to Denmark for professional development to figure that out.

  • Finally, what is with York’s strange fetish with long terms? Parappally has a 10-year term. Elgie was a trustee for 17 years. Loralea Carruthers, chair of the board of trustees, has been a trustee for 13 years. Other trustees have served for 10 years or more.

Long-serving trustees sit on school boards across Ontario. Considering how York’s trustees have behaved, now might be a good time to ask if decades-long tenure serves the interests of trustees more than it does students – particularly those trustees who want to use their position as a stepping stone to higher political office.

Defenders of public education – presumably trustees and senior administrators – need to demonstrate the essential good of public education every day.

If they do not, enemies of public education – like the populist anti-experts now running America’s public schools – will have a better case for private schooling.

Public education is a public good. But the dysfunction and incompetence on display in York can, like smog across the sun, make that good hard to see.

Troy Media columnist Robert Price is a communications and professional writing instructor at the University of Toronto. Robert is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all Troy Media columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Troy Media.

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