You did it

By Joel Ceausu
www.thesuburban.com

Maybe you didn’t notice, but if you’re one of the thousands of teachers, maintenance staff, administrators, support staff, or one of the thousands of students in any of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s 40 schools and centres, or just any plain old stakeholder in Laval, Lanaudière and Laurentians, you crossed a line this week.

The venting of a personal diatribe via social media with the official imprimatur of the province’s third largest English school board.

When the Sir Wilfrid Laurier school board posted a recent ‘press release’ by outgoing chairman Nick Milas on its website, it broke new ground in the era of institutional buffoonery, worthy of a What Not to Do primer for election officials in training.

The message was essentially a final salvo from Nick Milas who was recently cleared of any wrongdoing by the board’s contracted ethics commissioner Felipe Morales following a complaint about a trip to Asia to drum up business for the increasingly cash-strapped board.

What should have been a personal missive by an outgoing politician unfortunately became a board-paid partisan attack on a specific political slate by name. The Suburban has learned that the letter’s posting on the school board website is currently under investigation by the Director General of Elections of Quebec (DGEQ).

The release has some good news, that “anticipated revenues of the board’s new international student program are $2,828,000 and projected profits are $643,000 for this school year alone.”

It should have been left at that. But it got personal, lifting the shroud of confidentiality around the investigation, when the Board’s own ethics code holds that a not guilty decision buries the matter forever.

French farce

The investigation itself took several weeks, including hapless efforts to get input from newspaper reporters, and stunning indications that a public school board administration was reluctant to even tell reporters who the ethics commissioner was, as evidenced by an e-mail exchange worthy of the best of 1950s French farce cinema.

But Milas shot hard and wide. Of course it’s his prerogative to do so, but in slapping this up on social media, the board’s website and on NewsWire as an official Press Release (in colour!) the SWL board shows that it still has a lot to learn.

Milas was completely exonerated but said the investigation “Put at risk the reputation and credibility of the SWLSB” and jeopardized “the reputation of the entire Quebec English education system at the international level.”

Now everyone take a breath. There are no UPAC windbreakers en route to rifle through the souvenir fortune cookies. A few questions from some lawyer-for-hire about a $10,000 Asian trip will not bring down public education in this province, and the SWL already has enough problems with its reputation.

Be clear, Nick Milas can say whatever he pleases, and put out any press release he wants. But a public institution with varying levels of governance, administration, professional and non-professional staff, have by default turned it into an inappropriate airing of grievances. (Ironically, any commissioner or employee who would do likewise would surely have been reprimanded.)

The whole point

If Milas vented his disgust and frustration via his Facebook page or in conversation with reporters, fair game. But he didn’t, the SWL board did.

“Bush league” is how a commissioner from another school board called it. “Someone should be called on the carpet for this.”

And remember, this is not about free trips from a private firm; nor that said company grabbed years of lucrative business from a taxpayer-funded public institution without open tender; not even that SWL’s other partner, Lester B. Pearson school board, has a sketchy presence in English Montreal School Board territory; not even that SWL has officially revealed what is by law a confidential matter.

By publishing carefully worded condemnations using thinly veiled reference to certain political candidacies, the Sir Wilfrid Laurier board and all its stakeholders are publicly and loudly taking sides a week before the first election in seven years.

And that’s the whole point. Your words, Your board, Your approval and Your money. Illegal? Unethical? People smarter than me will pronounce on that for sure, but for now the DGEQ will decide.

I’ve had candid chats with Nick Milas and found him quite engaging when personal views trump the official line. He’s a passionate and insightful individual, a genuinely nice guy who is truly concerned about the English public school system. If he felt wronged by an ethics complaint he should have cleared his name and moved on, or shouted his outrage from the highest rooftop.

Just not from 235 Lesage.

In the EMSB elections, one candidate for chair recently accused the other side of engaging in “sandbox politics.” A few people laughed at the imagery, embarrassed by the implication. But what they don’t know is that just a few miles north of the island, the farm team is on deck.

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