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Zorra Mayor calling on Ministry of Education to investigate TVDSB

Associate director Riley Culhane says Thames Valley District School Board. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

Mayors from several rural municipalities around London have signed a joint letter to the Ministry of Education calling for an investigation into the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB).

The letter, written by the Township of Zorra Mayor Marcus Ryan and signed by Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn and North Middlesex Deputy Mayor Adrian Cornelissen, is in response to the boards handling of the Rural Education Task Force (RETF).

The letter to Education Minister Stephen Lecce asks the ministry to investigate the actions of the TVDSB board of trustees and oversee the board’s actions.

The letter also mentions that they should consider the possible separation of the board into two, one for London and a second for Oxford, Elgin, and Middlesex Counties.

“The issues that people are seeing right now in the media are not new. Rural communities, in particular, have experienced these (concerns) for decades with rural school closures and feeling that the school board was not listening or understanding their issues,” Ryan told Global News.

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“They’ve reached a peak recently where, in my opinion, and a lot of people’s opinion, the school board has demonstrated that they aren’t able to make their senior administration do what they tell them to do.”

Read more: ‘Slap in the face’: TVDSB commitment to rural learning questioned over handling of draft report

In his letter, Ryan wrote there is “confusion over the role of staff and trustees” and that they are “genuinely concerned with the ability of the Board to represent the rural residents.”

Ryan is the former vice-chair of the RETF and says their draft report on the concerns of rural schools was not taken seriously. Nor was the organization given the ability to complete a full report.

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The RETF was founded two years ago to consult with residents in TVDSB’s rural community and identify the unique challenges and opportunities in their schools to provide recommendations on improving rural education.

The task force consists of municipal councillors, some TVDSB staff members and some trustees. He said Oxford County appointed him to be on the task force because the board had requested that Oxford, Elgin and Middlesex counties have representatives.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed public consultation, and the task force received an extension a year ago after providing the board with an interim report.

Read more: TVDSB to maintain current urban-rural trustee distribution

Ryan said they had multiple meetings with TVDSB staff cancelled meetings, so they could not finalize their report. He said the board then passed a resolution saying the report “satisfies the board” without making changes.

“So I think, in my opinion and I’m not alone in this, senior administration sabotaged the work because they didn’t want the work to be done, and the trustees were coerced into accepting that,” Ryan said.

In March, the board told Global News the RETF draft report is “incomplete and unsuitable for public discussion by municipalities,” adding that the committee does not have the authority “to make recommendations around anything related to education, finance, personnel, and property.”

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The board’s statement also pointed to numerous investments in rural education over the years, including recent new schools in Ingersoll, Tillsonburg, Norwich and Woodstock, as well as renovations to other county schools.

Global News reached out to the TVDSB for comment on the letter, but a spokesperson said Lori-Ann Pizzolato, chair of the board of trustees, is the only one that can speak to this as it’s a Trustee issue, not something administration could address.

Global News also reached Pizzolato, trustee for wards 1, 11, 12 and 14, multiple times and has not received a response.

“What we should be doing is advocating for more solutions that will give people the voice they want in the service that they pay for. So I think I’m open to whatever is going to do that for people.”

Ryan and other rural politicians are holding a meeting for residents on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the Dorchester Auditorium at the Flight Exec Centre to voice their concerns about public education.

— With files from Globals’ Jacquelyn LeBel

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