Union mulls options over Columba bullying allegations

Recommending the Ministry of Education appoint a commissioner to take over the duties of the Columba College board of trustees is one of the options the Post Primary Teachers' Association is considering after allegations of staff bullying at the school.

PPTA general secretary Kevin Bunker said it was at the ''very extreme'' end of options the teachers' union could take in a bid to find a resolution to the conflict within the integrated Dunedin secondary school.

The Otago Daily Times reported in October that principal Elizabeth Wilson had been under investigation by the union for alleged ''severe and persistent'' bullying of staff over an extended period.

The school board of trustees remains adamant Miss Wilson has board members' ''unqualified support'' in her role.

Board chairwoman Margot Skinner yesterday said Miss Wilson had the ''unqualified support'' of the school's board in her management of the college, and also had the support of the parent community.

''The college has an excellent reputation which we are proud of,'' Dr Skinner said.

''The board of trustees is not prepared to discuss matters relating to staffing in the media, and will continue to attempt to work constructively with all parties.''

Miss Wilson could not be contacted yesterday.

Mr Bunker said the board did not seem to want to accept the allegations, but he believed it was still possible to resolve the issue by engaging an independent mediator to hear the complaints.

If the board continued to refuse to accept the allegations, other options would have to be explored, he said.

These included recommending to the ministry that it appoints a commissioner to take over the board's duties, or engaging an Occupational Health and Safety officer to investigate complaints.

''I believe that engaging the Occupational Health and Safety people is eventually where we will have to go.

''The board is responsible at the end of the day. They have to do something.''

Mr Bunker yesterday said the union did not want to wait another year for Miss Wilson to retire, for fear of the impact on staff.

''We are hopeful we can find a way through this - we don't want to create victims unnecessarily.

''This whole matter has been lurching along for the past year and people are at the end of their tether.

''Our members have told us directly that they find her [Miss Wilson's] style of management very difficult.

''They would describe it as bullying and that it contributes to an unhealthy working environment.''

Ministry of Education enablement and support head Katrina Casey said the ministry was aware of issues at Columba College and the ministry had spoken to the board of trustees about them.

''We acknowledge all the concerns that have been expressed and take them very seriously.

''We want these issues resolved as quickly as possible in the interests of the school, its staff and its pupils.''

The ministry had spoken to Dr Skinner and would hold further discussions this week about the board's plans to resolve the issues.

''The ministry will be providing any support required to do this,'' she said.

''That support could range from further advice to the extreme of a statutory intervention.

''We want the situation resolved as early as possible in the new year and will be working closely with all the parties concerned to ensure that happens.''

- john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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