July 25, 2016

EDMONTON - Edmonton's Catholic school board will be required to report regularly to Alberta's deputy minister of education after a consultant's report concluded the board is unlikely to alter its high degree of "conflict and confusion" without direct oversight from outside.

In a highly-critical 16-page report, consultant Donald Cummings says the board's current governing style – which includes bullying, disrespect, distrust, innuendo and attack – is "intractable."

Attempting to resolve contentious issues among the trustees is, within the current mode of governing, "virtually impossible without third party mediation," Cummings wrote. Using current board practices to resolve these issues "will only make (and have made) matters significantly worse."

Education Minister David Eggen, in a comment on Cummings' report, said, "I will continue to monitor the situation with Edmonton Catholic to ensure they are putting the best interests of students first by working to meet the observer's recommendations."

Eggen appointed Cummings, who works with National Growth Partners, last fall to observe and report on dysfunction within the school board.

At that time, the board was debating policy options for dealing with LGBTQ students, which, along with budget discussions this May, exposed "a functionally challenged board."

"These issues did not create the challenging environment; however, they came at a time of heightened board dysfunction," Cummings said.

The consultant said he attended more than 40 meetings of the board, met individually with trustees, members of the administration and "external stakeholders," and "reviewed countless documents."


"The degree of conflict and confusion was far more significant than originally contemplated or planned in the observer role," he said.

His attempts to adhere "to a work plan and structured approach to improvement quickly gave way to the need for constant 'fire-fighting' and intervention on a frequent (often daily) ad hoc basis," he said.

Cummings also maintained relationships between the seven-member school board and the district administration "are highly strained."


Neither group trusts the other, he said. There is "significant distrust" of the administration among some trustees; as well, "there is significant distrust and frustration with the current practices of the trustees in the district among the administration."

The district is committed to a "one voice, one employee" model of governance – the board speaks with one voice and deals directly only with the superintendent – but that model "is challenged in practice."

Cummings maintained there must be "consequences" for trustees and the board for "not following its own policies and processes."

The board's current approach of "policing itself" will not ensure "a healthy governing system."

Deputy minister Curtis Clarke, in a letter to the board, laid out 14 areas of concern. He wants the board to develop a plan by Sept. 30 for achieving "demonstrated improvement" in those areas.

The board will report to him bi-monthly, beginning Nov. 30, describing its progress. Clarke gave the board 15 months to implement its plan.


Marilyn Bergstra, the board chair, admitted in a July 15 statement that "discussions have been heated at times," but asserted "debate and disagreements are an essential component of democratic governance."

Edmonton's Catholic school board has become "the poster child" for contentious behaviour among politicians at all levels of government. "For the sake of the students we govern, it is important that our voices be strong and respected."

The board, Bergstra said, has now set out on "a very good path" since its acrimonious May budget meeting. The board is committed to developing new forms of governance that are overdue.

She also contended, "Much of the good work from our administration stems from trustee passions, ideas and creativity."