On June 18, in what many Thompsonites will hope to be the denouement, the final act where the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are resolved in what for more than two years has been a narrative tale of either dramatic tragedy, almost on a Shakespearean scale, or cheap farce – or perhaps truth be told, a bit of both – Ryan Land's arbitration hearing is scheduled to get under way for five days at the Burntwood Hotel.
Land, who topped our reader online poll as newsmaker of the year for 2011, is, of course, the former probationary principal of R.D. Parker Collegiate, who had his probation terminated last year. Trustees twice in identical 5-2 splits on Feb. 22 and April 5, 2011voted to remove him as probationary principal – with then-chair Rob Pellizzaro, then vice-chair Guido Oliveira, trustees Vince Nowlin, and Alexander Ashton, who is now chair, and former trustee Valerie Wilson in favour – and trustees Sya Gregovski and Leslie Tucker opposed.
Added to that, in mid-June last year, Land was then subsequently fired for cause by the school board – four months after they had removed him as probationary principal. At a trustees meeting the day before graduation, former superintendent Bev Hammond provided details of an investigation she said she had conducted, which she said found that students had had marks changed without doing remedial work, responsibility for which she later laid at the feet of Land in an interview with the Thompson Citizen. Hammond's marks-changing investigation focused only on the years that Land was principal.
By that point Land had been hired as corporate affairs manager for Vale's Manitoba Operations, a position he still holds.
Land, who as principal was a member of Thompson Teachers' Association No. 45-3 of the Manitoba Teachers' Society, has filed a number of grievances through his union against the SDML, his former employer. Under the collective agreement the Thompson Teachers' Association selected a grievance committee consisting of three members of the association. The board of trustees handles all grievances in committee of the whole.
The collective agreement's Article 24 on discipline says, "No person covered by this collective agreement shall be disciplined without just and reasonable cause." Article 26 imposes an obligation on the employer to act fairly, saying, "In administering this collective agreement the employer shall act reasonably, fairly and in good faith, and in a manner consistent with the collective agreement as a whole and as per the Labour Relations Act."
Under the three-step grievance procedure, at step one Land, along with a member of the association grievance committee, would have met with the superintendent in an attempt to resolve it. Such a meeting must take place within five teaching days of its occurrence. The superintendent would have had five days to reply in writing. At step two when a satisfactory settlement hasn't been reached, the grievance may be submitted to the school board in writing within five teaching days. A hearing takes place within five teaching days. A written reply must be given within five teaching days following the hearing.
Failing to reach an agreement in step two, either party, within five teaching days of receiving the written reply, may state its intention in writing to refer the dispute to a three-member arbitration board made up of a union-nominated arbitrator, board-nominated arbitrator and a chairperson. Should the two arbitrators nominated by the union and management fail to agree upon a chairperson within the required seven days, either party may request the Manitoba Labour Board to appoint a chairperson.
Under Section 122 of The Labour Relations Act, there is a presumption in law that arbitration hearings in Manitoba are open to the public with several caveats. The law says, "Every hearing held by an arbitrator or arbitration board shall be open to the public except that the arbitrator or arbitration board may hold the hearing in camera where the arbitrator or arbitration board is of the opinion that:
- intimate financial or personal matters may be disclosed during the hearing; and;
- the desirability of avoiding disclosure of the intimate financial or personal matters outweighs the desirability of adhering to the principle that hearings be open to the public."
Land, who has been publicly circumspect throughout the long saga, told the Thompson Citizen June 3 in an e-mail reply to a query, "Obviously, I am looking forward to a resolution, and I am anxious to share my story."
The bureaucratic soap opera began April 27, 2010 – before Hammond was hired and when Hugh Fraser was still superintendent. Then-chair Pellizzaro, now the vice-chair, delivered what was described as a "public rebuke" to Land during a board meeting and announced that his probationary status, normally one year in duration, was being extended another year after a unanimous vote by the board of trustees, who had considered the option of terminating Land's employment, but ultimately decided not to.
Pellizzaro then denounced employees who try to "manipulate the board by influence." Pellizzaro, elected in 1998, is the longest-serving trustee on the board.
Five months later, just a few months into Hammond's superintendent stint, the board apologized to Land – without his being present – for discussing his contract status publicly. Then they terminated him less than six months later.
Soon Hammond, too, would be gone. In an e-mail sent Jan. 18 to all School District of Mystery Lake trustees and staff, Hammond herself resigned, writing, "It is with both regret and anticipation that I must advise you of my resignation as your Superintendent/CEO of Schools effective immediately. Life has a way of throwing us a few curve balls from time to time and my decision, while not an easy one, is the right one for me at this time both personally and professionally."
Let the arbitration begin.