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SMC BOARD RESPONDS – Refutes Claims of Anti-Unionism

THE St. Mary’s College Board of Management has refuted claims of being anti-union and is appealing for clear thinking in the unfolding drama between itself and the St. Lucia Teachers Union (SLTU) over the appointment of a vice-principal for the school.

The situation is tense, as was evident when Julian Monrose, SLTU President, placed the union on high alert should the two bodies fail to arrive at a mutual understanding regarding the vice-principal position.

Image of St Mary’s College. (PHOTO: Stan Bishop)
St Mary’s College. (PHOTO: Stan Bishop)

On Thursday, Monrose accused the Board of adopting an anti-union stance by raising an objection to Don Howell being confirmed as vice-principal at the college. Monrose claimed that the position taken by the Board was because of Howell’s association with the SLTU. Howell was SLTU’s general secretary before being appointed as acting vice-principal last year for a one-year period.

According to Monrose, such an objection should not have been raised because Howell received high marks on his appraisal forms for the one year he acted as vice-principal of the College and as a result should have been given the nod for confirmation to the post by the Board, instead of raising an objection.

The Ministry of Education wrote that it was considering Howell’s promotion from Graduate Teacher II to the post of vice-principal II of St. Mary’s College with effect from September 1, 2017 and that the District Education Officer had concurred with the recommendation. The Ministry claimed that Howell possessed the requisite qualifications to function in the position and that during his tenure he was supportive of the principal in the attainment of the immediate and long-term goals of the school and was instrumental in the maintenance of progress and stability at the school.

The Ministry also requested of the school’s Board of Management comments regarding the possible conformation of Howell as vice-principal of the College. The Board did not give Howell the conformation he sought, after his one-year acting position ended in August this year. However, it was prepared to endorse him to act another year in the position, according to documents in The VOICE’s possession. This was communicated to Howell just over two weeks ago.

The VOICE learned that the Board informed the Ministry that it was unable, after considerable deliberations, to support Howell’s immediate confirmation. However, that it was prepared to endorse him remaining in the position as acting vice-principal for a further academic year provided he satisfies certain conditions which were communicated to him via letter.

The conditions were, among other things, Howell presenting a conflict of interest with him holding on to the post of general secretary at the SLTU.

Documents showed the Board asking Howell to resolve the conflict of interest which would exist with him accepting the position of acting vice-principal and his current position as general secretary. The Board noted that it “has absolutely no antagonism towards staff members’ involvement/participation in lawful trade union activities”.

However, the fact that Howell would be occupying the two full-time posts has attracted much public censure, particularly given the visibility of both roles. The Board asked Howell to resign from his post as general secretary of the SLTU if he is to assume the role of acting vice-principal.

Another condition presented to Howell called on him to demonstrate a more than ready willingness to work with and be directed by the Board of Management. Another condition highlighted his relationship with stakeholders, noting that the success of the College is intrinsically linked with the close and respectful relationship that is maintained with all of its stakeholders.

The Board pointed Howell to a letter he wrote to District Education Officer, Martha Foster, on October 10, 2017, and told him that that letter demonstrated extreme poor judgment and was “stunningly disrespectful”.

According to the Board, Howell wrote in his capacity as vice-principal of the College. The Board claimed that as an educator, Howell was certainly aware of the supervisory authority of the District Education Officer as an agent of his employer. The Board said Howell’s letter to the District Education Officer was disrespectful, threatening and resulted in derailing a perfectly legitimate Heads of Department meeting called to review the school’s performance on October 12 of this year, which was rescheduled to a week later. Howell was asked to issue a suitably worded apology to the District Education Officer since his posturing was in breach of recognized and acceptable protocols.

Another condition is about a situation surrounding confirmation of Howell’s appointment. Documents revealed the Board being alarmed by Howell’s actions in relation to the Ministry of Education’s instruction to him to revert to his substantive post since his tenure as acting vice-principal had come to an end.

According to the Board, Howell appeared to hold and promulgated a patent untruth that the Board had sought to block his appointment as vice–principal as evidenced by a procedural directive emanating from the Ministry for him to return to his substantive post. The Board claimed neither it nor its Chairman sought to block Howell’s appointment. Further that Howell, by his actions, had perpetuated an impression among staff that by some malicious intent, the Board and/or its Chairman was to be blamed for the non-confirmation of Howell’s appointment as vice-principal. The Board noted that Howell brought the reputation of the Board and its Chairman into disrepute and had engendered an atmosphere of incredible uncertainty amongst certain staff members that the Board finds reprehensible.

The Board has since asked Howell to write a suitably worded and unequivocal letter of apology to the Chairman and members of the Board accepting responsibility for his actions and retracting the misconception that the Board and/or its Chairman was to be blamed for the non-confirmation of his appointment as vice-principal.

The VOICE is in receipt of a letter from Howell to the Board stating that Howell believes it would be prudent of him to seek legal advice as to the way forward regarding the conditions tied to his appointment for another year as vice-principal, which were contained in a letter to him from the Board dated October 25, 2017.

Howell was acting vice-principal of the college from September 1, 2016 to August 31, 2017.

Micah George is an established name in the journalism landscape in St. Lucia. He started his journalism tutelage under the critical eye of the Star Newspaper Publisher and well known journalist, Rick Wayne, as a freelancer. A few months later he moved to the Voice Newspaper under the guidance of the paper’s recognized editor, Guy Ellis in 1988.

Since then he has remained with the Voice Newspaper, progressing from a cub reporter covering court cases and the police to a senior journalist with a focus on parliamentary issues, government and politics. Read full bio…

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