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NDP Leader John Horgan calls for Vancouver School Board revival

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

If elected, NDP Leader John Horgan says he would reinstate the Vancouver School Board or call a by-election for new trustees, claiming the Liberal government has bungled the education file.

Education Minister Mike Bernier fired the nine-member board last October, citing its failure to pass a balanced budget, and replaced them with a sole trustee, former Delta, B.C. superintendent Dianne Turner. Since then, several former trustees, including former board chair Mike Lombardi, have called on the government to hold a by-election to put elected trustees back in place.

On Thursday, Mr. Horgan supported that idea.

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"What we have now is a school board that does not have duly elected representatives – and I think that's wrong and we should fix that," Mr. Horgan told reporters in Victoria.

"If not reinstatement, certainly by-elections as quickly as possible."

Mr. Bernier has dismissed the idea of holding a by-election. Ms. Turner was appointed for a one-year term with an option to extend and could remain in place until the next municipal elections, in 2018.

The former VSB board was split along party lines – consisting of four trustees from the Vision Party, four from the NPA and a sole trustee from the Green Party. Before the mass firing, the board had been at loggerheads with the provincial government over several issues, including seismic upgrades for aging schools and budget shortfalls.

Under the provincial School Act, school boards are supposed to pass balanced budgets by June 30 of each year. But last June, VSB trustees rejected a proposed budget, with those opposed saying the roughly $20-million worth of cuts it contained were too deep.

That set trustees up for dismissal, but the axe didn't fall until last October – around the same time that allegations of a toxic work environment at the VSB emerged and several senior staff went on leave.

In March, the VSB released a redacted version of an investigation into those allegations by lawyer Roslyn Goldner. Ms. Goldner concluded that bullying and harassment occurred and that a public meeting last September related to school closings was a tipping point for employees.

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In a recent statement, VSB unions – including the Vancouver Secondary Teachers' Association and the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers' Association – rejected Ms. Goldner's report, saying they hadn't been interviewed even though they were criticized in the report and that they support VSB trustees "asking hard questions, defending public education and opposing provincial government demands to close schools."

The VSB had launched a process to look at closing up to 11 schools, but that process was put on hold shortly before the board was fired.

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