pta president denies ‘unambiguous agenda’
A clear division within the board of the Alexandra School emerged today, as the Commission of Enquiry into the learning institution entered its second full week of hearings.
But the individual breaking ranks and criticising his Chairman Keith Simmons, president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association Carl Benskin, denied he had taken the witness chair purely as part of an “emphatic and unambiguous agenda” to support Principal Jeff Broomes, while simultaneously making Simmons look bad.
Benskin’s statements also suggested there was no love lost between himself and previously striking teachers at the school, saying “they didn’t display that they had the interest of the school at heart”.
The former lawman found himself on the defensive while being examined by the lawyers representing various Alexandra stakeholders today at the Wildey Gymnasium, Garfield Sobers Sports Complex.
It was during questioning by Barbados Secondary Teachers Union counsel Hal Gollop, however, that Benskin found himself rebutting accusations he was a strident supporter of the principal and had attended the enquiry on this basis.
That notwithstanding, he pointed to personal observations “the board was not fair in some cases in terms of the principal”, and called aspects of the board’s dealings with Broomes “petty”.
According to him, there were “obvious difficulties” between the board, especially the chairman, and the principal.
Benskin also said he had difficulty with the letter Simmons wrote to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart on January 20, 2012 about the industrial dispute, and that he responded to it with correspondence of his own nine days later.
“In respect of the letter that the chairman wrote to the Prime Minister, normally the procedure and protocol is that if there is any correspondence that would go out members would sit around the table and discuss it, and even if they draft the letter to say x, y or z. That was not done and the last meeting we would have dealt, which was before the fourth of January. It was not discussed,” he said.
“I just wanted him (Simmons) to be more structured in dealing with the situation at Alexandra School. It was not that I was disregarding or disrespecting him in any way, but clearly this was a matter in which adults were involved, children were involved and it was not fair that teachers were withdrawing their labour.”
Benskin, who was elected as PTA president in October 2011, and became a board member the following month, said at the height of the industrial action in January he publicly supported Broomes and that after some members of his executive took issue with this, suggesting he should be impartial, he had retracted the statement.
He said today, though, that supporting Broomes remained his “personal position”.
“The same way that they (the board) sat down and listened to all of the striking teachers they could sit down and respond to the principal as well so in my opinion this was not fair,” he noted.
“I find they were too petty, in my opinion they were too petty.”
When asked by Gollop if he was at the enquiry to support Broomes’ position and make Keith look bad, Benskin responded:
“My sole purpose of coming here is to speak the truth to the enquiry.”
“You have come to make the principal look good,” Gollop stated.
“No, Sir,” Benskin insisted, “I have come here to give evidence.” (SC)