Tucker sues over education commissioner snub

  • Fighting back: veteran educator Gina Tucker

    Fighting back: veteran educator Gina Tucker

  • Fighting back: veteran educator Gina Tucker is seen in this undated photograph (Photograph via Facebook)

    Fighting back: veteran educator Gina Tucker is seen in this undated photograph (Photograph via Facebook)

A veteran Bermuda teacher and administrator has launched a lawsuit after she was passed over for a top job.

Gina Tucker said in her affidavit that she had “not been fairly treated or properly considered” for the role of Commissioner of Education.

She added: “It is my view that the permanent secretary has orchestrated this entire matter.”

The Supreme Court civil case against the Public Service Commission and the Board of Education was filed last November, two months after Kalmar Richards was appointed to the post after she had been acting commissioner for nine months.

Dr Tucker, a former principal at Victor Scott Primary School who has also worked in numerous other education roles in Bermuda, said news of the appointment was “painful”.

She added: “I have more qualifications than Ms Richards and considerable experience in the department and Ministry of Education. The public perception since I was not awarded the position is that there ‘must be something wrong with me’ as more than one person has put it.

“Consequently, for my professional reputation, it needs to be demonstrated or admitted that the process was not carried out fairly and in accordance with the requirement under the Act and Regulations.”

Dr Tucker wants the appointment of Ms Richards quashed and an order made for the application process to be held “fairly and in accordance with the Education Act 1996 and the Public Service Commission Regulations 2001”, as well as costs.

She said that she had expressed interest in the job after the departure of Edmond Heatley in 2014.

Dr Tucker added that three other candidates, Freddie Evans, Lou Matthews and Llewellyn Simmons, were all given the chance to serve as acting commissioner, while she was not.

She said: “All the acting posts arose solely due to the decision of the permanent secretary, Ms Valerie Robinson-James.”

In her affidavit, she said that her relationship with Ms Robinson-James had soured after a disagreement in June 2016 about the decision to offer the commissioner of education position to Paul Wagstaff, a British education expert.

Mr Wagstaff turned down the job in 2017.

Dr Tucker said that the position was then offered to Dr Evans “on the recommendation of the permanent secretary”.

She added that she had been told by board members that they were informed that she was no longer interested in the job.

Dr Tucker said: “This was clearly not true.

“At no point was I invited to meet, nor did I meet with the BoE to discuss my continued interest, or lack thereof, in the post after the overseas candidate declined.”

She said that she had written to the PSC to complain about the hiring of Dr Evans after he was sacked in October 2017.

Dr Tucker said: “In December 2017 the permanent secretary met with the senior team of the education department to inform us that she alone had decided to bring principal Kalmar Richards in to act as commissioner of education.”

She said that she had again applied from the job last May and was told in July she had been shortlisted.

Dr Tucker said that she was “surprised” by the application process at the time “as it appeared far less rigorous than the 2016 application process”.

She added: “Notably, during the most recent commissioner of education process, Ms Richards in no way acted as one might expect in an ‘acting’ position, instead setting executive leadership team meeting agendas and issuing education and department policy and directives that would extend well into the eventual full-time appointment of commissioner of education.

“Put another way, she acted at all times as if the post of commissioner of education was ‘in the bag’.”

Mark Diel, Dr Tucker’s lawyer, said that the process to select Ms Richards, the former principal of CedarBridge Academy, “was flawed from the outset”.

He added: “It’s accepted in the affidavit evidence filed by the BoE that Kalmar Richards did not meet the minimum academic qualifications.”

Mr Diel said there were provisions in the regulations for the PSC to recommend a candidate who did not meet the criteria.

But he explained that a determination needed to be made based on merit that the applicant was the best candidate for the job.

He added: “That process never happened.”

Mr Diel said that the process to select a commissioner of education was based on recommendations made by the BoE that went to the PSC.

He said that the PSC’s role was to consider the applicants and forward a recommendation to the Governor.

Mr Diel said that there were seven applicants for the commissioner’s post, but that was narrowed down to two.

But Mr Diel said: “The whittling down was done not by the BoE. It was done by civil servants.”

He said that Dr Tucker and Ms Richards were then interviewed by a panel “which was not appointed by the BoE”.

Mr Diel said that the panel then recommended Ms Richards to the BoE.

He added: “The BoE went with the recommendation of the interview panel.”

Mr Diel said that the PSC did not conduct any interviews.

Mr Diel represented Dr Evans in a legal action launched against John Rankin, the Governor, and the Government after he was sacked as Commissioner of Education.

The Government agreed to settle with Dr Evans for an undisclosed sum, thought to be six figures.

Mr Diel said that there were similarities between the cases.

He added: “Unfortunately, it appears that there is almost a systemic problem with the process that has been — certainly in recent years — undertaken by both the BoE and the PSC in appointments in general.”

The Government did respond to a request for comment by press time yesterday.

To view Gina Tucker’s affidavit and the notice of application for leave to apply for judicial review, click on the PDF links under “Related Media”

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Published Apr 25, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Apr 25, 2019 at 6:37 am)

Tucker sues over education commissioner snub

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