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Have warring factions gripped York Region school board?
Feb. 27, 2017
Lisa Queen

The chair of the troubled York Region District School Board, who is the subject of a code of conduct investigation, says she has always acted with integrity and careful consideration of the rules.

Loralea Carruthers is also questioning why concerns that seemingly have been brewing about her for about two years only became the focus of a formal complaint days before she was made chair in December.

In a move seen as ushering in change, Carruthers replaced ousted former chair Anna DeBartolo amid ongoing concerns about the board. 

Carruthers is defending herself after a code of conduct complaint lodged by Aurora and King Trustee Peter Adams-Luchowski in November came to light last week. 

Adams-Luchowski accused Carruthers of using a “threatening” tone in her dealings with staff in trying to get a management job with the board, according to documents obtained by The York Region Media Group.

Director J. Philip Parappally also expressed concerns about Carruthers' attempts to get the job, the documents show. 

A trustee found to have breached the code of conduct guidelines could be reprimanded and/or barred from committees or meetings for a specified period of time. 

In his written complaint, Adams-Luchowski said he believes Carruthers breached three sections of the code, including integrity and dignity of office, avoidance of personal advantage and conflict of interest and civil behaviour.

“Staff feel that there is continued reprisal and the tone Trustee Carruthers is using in meetings and privately with them is threatening because the position has not been filled (and) the behaviour continues,” he said.

Adams-Luchowski’s complaint came about three weeks after he and DeBartolo received a letter from Parappally about Carruthers.

In his letter, Parappally said on March 24, 2015, Carruthers asked him to appoint her “without competition” to the vacant position of senior manager of board and trustee services, a job that in 2014 paid $140,844. 

“Additionally, during this meeting, Trustee Carruthers, said that if I appoint her, I would ‘not have to worry about my position as director’,” he wrote.

Parappally was hired as director in 2014 under a standard four-year contract. However, he was given what has been called an unusual and unprecedented 10-year contract several months after he said he was approached by Carruthers about the job. 

Following his meeting with Carruthers, Parappally said he brought his concerns to human resources to get legal advice. 

HR staff advised Carruthers her proposal was “problematic,” said Parappally, adding the job remains vacant as it would be unfair for a successful candidate to come into the situation.

Parappally was so concerned about the issue, he raised it last summer with the Ombudsman’s Office. 

“Two occurrences over the last month, which I believe are tied to (Carruthers') request, mean that I must now bring this forward despite my fear of reprisal or ‘worry about my position as director.’ First, Trustee Carruthers, during the Oct. 5, 2016 in camera (private) meeting of the board, in front of almost all of the senior team, openly questioned the operational leadership of the board,” he said in his letter. 

“Secondly, and more importantly to me, on Oct. 18 2016, before the board standing committee and after the property management committee, Trustee Carruthers approached another member of the senior team and openly questioned his professionalism and integrity in his capacity as an employee of this board. Out of fear of reprisal, I have been reluctant to address this issue. However, now that it is evolving to include others that report to me and not to trustees, I am compelled to bring this forward.”

Carruthers said she was approached two years ago by the board’s former chair, who encouraged her to consider whether she could better serve the board as a staff member if a job became available. 

“On her advice, I had a very short informal conversation with the director about whether I would even be eligible for such a position when I was no longer a trustee. In the end, I decided not to pursue this matter beyond those informal conversations," she said in an email. 

"At the time and for the next year and a half, no  one involved ever suggested that anything had been done that was even remotely inappropriate. While I do find it curious that this issue was only raised as a concern 10 days before a closely fought and well-publicized election for chair of the board last December, I appreciate the opportunity to state that I have never used my position as trustee in any way other than with integrity and careful respect for our governing rules and procedures. Indeed, I believe it is because of my reputation for integrity that I was elected as the new school board chair with a mission to help shepherd our board through the reviews we know are necessary to restore public confidence by improving transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility.”