Saturday, September 1, 2012

What Do Politics and Education Have In Common?

I cannot escape the conviction that when one considers the seamier side of education, with its sometimes immoral and concealed actions, its use of 'spin' and its willingness to overlook or minimize wrongdoing when it suits its purposes, there are many parallels with the kind of unethical, expedient and corrupt behaviour we often find among those we elect to public office.

The other reason for my preoccupation is that I have always detested the existence of double standards in the meting out of justice.

Two events involving two school boards, one current and one going back several years, suggest that justice is not only not done, but not seen to be done.

In today's Toronto Star, a story about a former Kingsville, Ont., principal, Wendy Lynn Liebing,

admitted misusing school board funds over three years and resigned from the association on June 14, the college said on its website. Her certificate of qualification and registration to teach were then cancelled. The case was detailed in the latest issue of the college’s magazine, Professionally Speaking.

“At the time of the resignation, a professional misconduct investigation was in progress wherein the member was alleged to have mismanaged and misappropriated school and board funds,” the website said.

Despite the College of Teacher's euphemistic reference to Liebling's having 'mismanaged and misappropriated' school money, the fact is that she embezzled over $50,000 from her employer, a crime that in most cases would result in criminal charges. I will offer my opionion on why that did not happen in a few moments.

The next case, which goes back several years, involves a former school principal named Glenn Crawford, who was employed by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.

Like Liebling, Crawford 'misused' school funds and assets for personal reasons, as he admitted to during the investigation. Amongst the fraudulent acts he admitted to were the following:

a) receiving unauthorized personal advances;

b) receiving reimbursement for meal and hotel expenses that were personal;

c) falsifying receipts from Ontario Principals’ Council in order to be reimbursed by the

d) billing both the Ontario Principals’ Council and the school for expense claims;

e) using school funds and assets for personal reasons;

f) authorizing payment of expenses by the school for expenses not related to school activities, such as expenses related to events involving his son including the International Children’s Games and the B’nai Brith Sports Dinner;

g) using the school van for personal reasons and submitting the expenses to the school;

h) receiving reimbursement for the purchase of tires claimed but not installed on the school

i)obtaining the personal services of landscaping company, where his son is a landscape contractor, and billing the school; and

j)authorizing landscape expenses for the 2001/2002 fiscal year higher than those for similar size schools.

The penalty for this malfeasance?

Essentially, Crawford was permitted to resign and had his teaching certificate suspended for one year.

You can read the full decision here.

So why were neither Liebling nor Crawford charged with a crime, something that usually happens to those who embezzle from their employers? The most benign explanation is that the board, being heavily influenced by institutional behaviour, wanted to minimize the publicity surrounding these odious deeds, publicity that would both diminish the institution's reputation and seriously damage the career advancement to the many who put their own fortunes above the good of education.

The second possibility, and admittedly a much more sinister one, is that people who commit crimes but are dealt with softly often have knowledge of things within the organization that no one wants exposed to public scrutiny.

While the latter explanation may seem rather paranoid and conspiratorial, my own years in education were witness to some very questionable things which, while I am not prepared to discuss them here, would never have passed 'the smell test'.

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