Mayor says TVDSB unwilling to accept criticism File Photo of the Thames Valley District School Board office.

Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) officials are being accused of being unwilling to accept constructive criticism after a fiery exchange that saw the mayor of Zorra Township storm out of a meeting.

Mayor Marcus Ryan was at Tuesday night’s school board meeting to give a presentation on “governance.” However, less than a minute into his allotted five-minutes, Ryan was chastised for his opening remarks.

“It’s not totally clear to me if I’m required to wear a mask or not, and I’m not entirely sure if I should ask the trustees or if I should ask the director,” Ryan opened. “It is a serious question, who is, in fact, in charge here? Who makes the decisions about how one billion dollars of our tax money is spent on our children’s education in our communities? The board passes resolutions, but then the senior administration seems to do whatever they want.”

Board Chair Lori-Ann Pizzolato interrupted Ryan to request he keep his remarks positive. That was followed by a point of order from Trustee Corrine Rahman, who asked Ryan to be respectful of staff and trustees and consider the stress everyone has been under over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If pointing out deficiencies in governance is disrespectful and unacceptable, then I don’t understand how I could possibly give you a delegation on governance, and frankly I don’t understand how any governing institution can ever hope to get better if they’re unwilling to accept even the slightest criticism of how they function,” Ryan responded.

Ryan’s refence to masking came after parents, teachers, and students were given mixed messages over the past week about a board requirement to wear face coverings. Trustees voted in favour last Tuesday of temporarily reinstating a masking requirement in schools. Two days later, TVDSB administration sent a letter to parents stating masking was strongly encouraged but would not be enforced, and that those who chose to not wear masks would be automatically exempted, with no action required on their part.

Ryan stated he was “stunned” by the unwillingness of the board to deal with a little bit of sarcasm.

“I don’t know how to function if constructive criticism is not allowed. Whether it is sarcastic or not is irrelevant,” said Ryan. “This room is a democratically elected group of people who spend taxpayers dollars on services that residents consume. It is the definition of what government does to accept constructive criticism. If this room is unwilling to accept constructive criticism, how can it ever hope to get better in any way?”

“It is stunning to me the fragility of the egos in here of people who hold elected office and cannot accept criticism on something,” Ryan added.

He briefly continued with his presentation speaking about the confusion surrounding the mask debate at the board and was just beginning to touch on the rural education task force being nixed by administrators when he was told his time was up.

“Is that a joke? You know what? This is nothing but a charade and a sham… Good luck to you all in ever having any level of effective governance. If you’re not willing to accept any level of criticism, this is absolutely farcical,” said Ryan.

He then left the podium and the board moved on to its next speaker without another word about what had transpired.

Social media erupted with comments from those who had seen the exchange.

“What are we doing if the trustees won’t hold staff accountable AND stop others from doing it,” tweeted Kelly Elliott, the deputy mayor of Thames Centre, who has clashed recently with the board over the rural education task force.

“I am embarrassed that my tax dollars go to such an organization. It’s no wonder they steam rolled us fighting to save our rural school 2 years ago with no regard for anyone else’s opinions,” posted a father from Sparta. He added that he hoped the public attention would lead to “meaningful” change at the board.

“Positivity in outlook and the ability to hear and consume constructive criticism are not mutually exclusive. We need kids to be able to take criticism, otherwise how will they grow,” questioned another father who took exception to Pizzolato’s insistence Ryan’s presentation be positive.

London News Today’s Craig Needles will be speaking to Pizzolato Wednesday on the Craig Needles Podcast.