Richmond school board promotes former Vancouver superintendent Scott Robinson to top staff post

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      A familiar face is the new superintendent of Richmond schools.

      Scott Robinson will become the top staff member in the district on April 1 following the retirement of Sheryl Elwood.

      Robinson was deputy superintendent in Richmond before being hired as superintendent of schools in the Vancouver school district in 2015. After leaving that post a couple of years later, he went back to work with the Richmond school district.

      "In our conversations with many district staff, there was excitement and delight when it was announced that Scott would be returning as our new Deputy Superintendent last year," the school board informed staff in a February 15 memo. 

      Robinson had a stormy tenure at the Vancouver district. In September 2016 he went on indefinite leave, coming back on a "gradual re-entry" the following January.

      In the meantime, the Vision Vancouver-controlled board replaced him on an acting basis with the former superintendent, Steve Cardwell.

      However, less than a month later, then B.C. Liberal education minister Mike Bernier fired the elected trustees.

      That prompted the departure of Cardwell, who was replaced by John Lewis. He was appointed by the unelected, government-appointed trustee, Dianne Turner.

      Robinson's former and current boss, Elwood, triggered a WorkSafe B.C. investigation by writing a letter to Bernier in her capacity as president of the B.C. School Superintendents Association.

      Elwood alleged the existence of a toxic work environment that "fosters fear and a lack of work safety".

      The former B.C. Liberal government appointed Dianne Turner as the sole trustee of the Vancouver school board a month after the then superintendent, Scott Robinson, went on leave.
      Carlito Pablo

      Vision trustees categorically denied these allegations but an investigation by lawyer Roslyn Goldner concluded that Elwood's claims were "valid".

      "In addition to the ambient bullying there was credible evidence that members of the Senior Management Team staff were subject to direct bullying and personal harassment," Goldner maintained. "There was evidence that staff competence and professional skills were undermined by this conduct. This had an adverse impact on their ability to effectively work with the Board and created a culture of fear in which staff felt vulnerable with regard to their job security."

      The Straight's K-12 education columnist, Patti Bacchus, was a trustee on the board that was fired by Bernier.

      In a column in late 2017, she pointed out that Robinson received $261,630 in compensation in 2016–17, which was almost $18,000 more than he collected in the previous year.

      "The increase came despite Robinson taking October, November, and December 2016 off and not attending public VSB meetings after September 2016 until his June 2017 departure," Bacchus noted.

      His fill-in, Lewis, received $105,125 that year in compensation. A company called John Lewis Executive Advisor Inc. billed the Vancouver school district $81,804 in the same year.

      "I know that top-level salaries had been frozen for several years and raises were due," Bacchus acknowledged in her column. "But the optics of this are poor for an essentially unsupervised management team that reported to the board in a September 16 memorandum that 'every budget is forecast to such a fine degree, there are no buffers for any unexpected expense or contingency.' "