Last week, a story hit the airwaves about how a group of parents in Mahone Bay were, well, a tad upset.
At issue was the removal of principal Lamar Eason from Bayview Community school, reportedly at the hands of Regional Education Director, Scott Milner. According to a CBC report, Eason had been placed on administrative leave by Milner after a complaint had been lodged while Eason was acting as the race relations co-ordinator for the South Shore Regional School Board last year.
The concerns raised by parents centered on a number of key points, most notably a perceived “lack of transparency” around how the issue was handled. Eason is, by all reports, a popular figure in the local community and a beloved Principal at the school. Based on some of the social media posts that have been circulated, I am not sure the same can be said for Milner. According to the Facebook page “We Support Lamar“, Milner is guilty of everything from engaging in bullying tactics to trying to “control the flow of information” around this issue. At one point, the page even goes so far to suggest that Milner is out “ruin Lamar Eason’s career” and frames the entire episode as being awash in “secrecy and corruption.” Similar opinions are being vented on a Facebook page “Standing with Mr. Eason.”
Did I mention the parents were upset?
Now, I am not here to take sides either way in this particular dispute. In the name of full disclosure, I know Mr. Eason causally through a program he and I took together over a three year period. He always struck me as a passionate and dedicated professional, and I retain that view of him based on our interactions.
In the same vein, I wouldn’t know Mr. Milner if I tripped over him in church, so have no particular opinion on his intentions, insidious or otherwise. Furthermore, since I have never worked for the man, I can’t purport to say what kind of a boss he is or comment on his particular style of leadership.
However, the social media pages did reveal a correspondence from an unknown administrator which read, in part “A culture of secrecy and abuse of power has been created which is affecting all staff and schools. Individual teachers and administrators are scared to speak out for fear of retribution.” If this is indeed the case, then it would seem that at least some concern is warranted.
For my money it is not the particular details of this one case that are of note, but rather the tone of the whole thing. Having a teacher removed from their position while a complaint is investigated is certainly nothing new, nor is keeping the details of that complaint confidential. In fact, I would hazard a guess that until a complaint is either verified or proven false, keeping the details under wraps is probably best for everyone involved.
In this case, however, there was a very clear sense from the community, not to mention the unnamed administrator, that Mr. Milner had somehow been “out to get” Mr. Eason. Indeed, the letter to which I referred earlier called for a full investigation of Milner’s conduct “to uncover the personal agenda and conflict of interest of our Superintendent [Director] which is very much at play here”. That call for action rather begs the question of accountability. There was a time, in the not too distant past, that calls for such an inquiry could be directed to a locally elected school board, for whom the Superintendents worked. With the abolition of the elected school boards, that is, of course, no longer an option.
You see, the thing about an elected body is that it is much more difficult for personal bias and individual agendas to have an impact on decision making. Not impossible of course; having sat round many a decision making table in my time I understand the power of personal influence as much as anyone. But within the new structure of educational governance in our province, any democratic processes that may have existed within the old elected school boards are gone. However flawed they may have been, boards at least gave the impression that they were democratic by nature. We now have a system whereby decisions on how to handle such instances as this one lay in the hands of a few, hand picked bureaucrats, who are only responsible, by all accounts, to the deputy minister.
Don’t get me wrong. Although for some people the term “bureaucrat” may seem like a four letter word, I do not share that sentiment. As well, there is a certain skill set that one must possess to run an educational district; and certainly, I don’t know if I would change places with any of our current directors. However, the power that this “inner circle” has to impact the educational lives of our children is fairly significant, and lies in their hands only by virtue of simply already doing the job under the old system. Now unfettered by the sober second thought that came from working for an elected body, there is an inherent danger that their decisions, educational or otherwise, could now, more than ever, be driven by personal, and perhaps professional, agenda.
It is highly probable that the way this situation was handled had nothing to do with Director Milner having some sort of axe to grind with Principal Eason. I do hold, however, that if he were to have some sort of vendetta, his capacity to act upon it has been greatly increased under this new system of educational governance. That, in and of itself, should have us all concerned.
As we muddle our way forward under this new regime, issues of who, precisely, is making the decisions and to whom, precisely, they are accountable, will need to be sorted out.
Otherwise, the promise of trust and transparency that the Liberals used to sell this new system to us will go up in a cloud of Facebook posts.
An edited version of this post originally appeared in The Chronicle Herald, Saturday, December 12, 2018.