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PHRD secrecy over superintendent leaving troubles MLA

The region’s MLA said he was surprised to hear there was any issue with former Pembina Hills school division Supt. Richard Harvey.

The region’s MLA said he was surprised to hear there was any issue with former Pembina Hills school division Supt. Richard Harvey.

Ken Kowalski, MLA for Barrhead-Westlock-Morinville, said the first he had heard anything was amiss was after he read the Nov. 1 story in the Westlock News.

He said he attended a board meeting in the summer and there was no indication there were any problems, so it came as a shock when he learned Harvey was gone, two months before he was set to retire after a 35-year career in education — including the past four as superintendent of education for PHRD.

“I’m very surprised, put it that way. Very surprised,” he said.

He added while he is not privy to any of the details, the secrecy surrounding the situation is especially troubling.

“I cannot, in my own mind, think of a reason why this wouldn’t be totally transparent,” he said. “I think they have a responsibility, everybody has a responsibility, to deal with basic fundamental communications issues. This is something that all of us believe in — total transparency.”

Kowalski said he has not fielded any complaints from constituents about the matter, and that in any case, the issue is the jurisdiction of the school division.

“I’ve always followed a policy of not getting involved in municipal politics,” he said, noting he is scheduled to meet with trustees in early December.

The issue first came to light when the Westlock News was advised a retirement banquet for Harvey slated for mid-October had been postponed.

Former board chairman Clayton Jespersen, who lost his seat as a trustee in the Oct. 18 municipal election, said on Oct. 21 Harvey had taken a personal leave of absence on Sept. 29.

Pembina Hills then issued a four-sentence news release on Monday, Oct. 25, stating Harvey, who began his tenure as superintendent on Aug. 1, 2006, was no longer an employee.

Trustees, both old and new, have declined comment, saying only that Harvey is no longer an employee of the school division

Trustees, senior division staff and Jespersen also won’t say whether Harvey quit or was fired, or if he is receiving a severance package.

Jespersen has cited the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act as the reason why the division won’t comment on this personnel issue.

And although he lost his seat in the Oct. 18 municipal election, Jespersen continues to act as spokesperson and he confirmed last week he has signed a contract to act in that capacity.

“They have kept me on to continue on in this whole thing for two months for $3,000,” Jespersen confirmed last week.

“I’m not ashamed of that or anything. The board has asked me to.”

The Westlock News tried to contact Alberta Education minister Dave Hancock regarding the Harvey issue, but were told he was out of the country.

Alberta Education communications director Kathy Telfer said Hancock will likely not comment.

“Given that this is a personnel matter that the board is responsible for, this is something the minister would leave up to the elected school board to deal with,” she said.

“Anything else would be speculating on what the situation is. We cannot tell them what to do. They’re a locally elected school board responsible to the community that they represent, and they need to manage their affairs appropriately.”