A Sudbury Catholic District School Board trustee resigned last month, just a few weeks into his second term as trustee.
Alex Cimino submitted his resignation letter to the board on Nov. 9, and trustees were asked at the Nov. 15 board meeting to accept his resignation.
He was first acclaimed as trustee in 2018, at the age of 18 (after having previously served as student trustee with the board), and won another four-year term in this year’s school board election, beating out challenger Claire Morrison.
Cimino graduated from Laurentian University’s sports administration program this past spring. Earlier this year, he posted on his LinkedIn page that he had accepted an offer of admission at NIpissing University “to further my education and passion of becoming a teacher.”
In October, while the school board elections were underway, a social media post indicated Cimino was a student teacher with the Sudbury Catholic board.
St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School posted on Oct. 17, “A warm welcome to Mr. Alex Cimino, a graduate of St. Benedict. Mr. Cimino is completing his first teacher’s college practicum with Mr. Politi this month! #teacher-in-the-making.”
However, provincial rules state that the employees of any school board are not allowed to hold office as a school board trustee.
These rules would have become an issue for Cimino if he secured paid employment with any school board during his four-year term.
Sudbury.com reached out to Cimino on these issues as early as Oct. 27, shortly after the municipal election, and he told us he would be making a statement.
That statement, it seems, came in the form of the resignation letter he submitted to the Sudbury Catholic board in early November.
We reached out to Cimino again this week after learning of his resignation, and in response, he sent us a copy of his resignation letter, which was also included as part of the package distributed to trustees at the November board meeting.
“I regret to inform that I will be vacating my seat as a Trustee for the Sudbury Catholic District School Board,” said the letter from Cimino.
“Due to unforeseen circumstances with both my current studies in education and my role as a Trustee, I cannot fulfill the role to its fullest capacity.”
Cimino said in his letter that “although my role as a teacher-candidate in education does not conflict with being a trustee,” many are under the impression that it does.
“There is no policy to this day that explicitly states that a teacher-candidate cannot be a Trustee for a school board,” his resignation letter said.
“However, these were the main issues of concern, which have barred me from fulfilling the Trustee role. Furthermore, I was advised prior to the election by many that I was able to run with no perceived issues because a teacher-candidate is not an employee of a school board.”
Cimino said it was only after the “withdrawal date” (presumably referring to the withdrawal date for the municipal/school board elections, which was Aug. 19) that concerns were raised “by my university” (presumably referring to Nipissing University).
Sudbury.com reached out to Nipissing University for clarification about their concerns surrounding this issue, but had not received a response on the matter as of this article’s publication.
Cimino said in his letter there was a “plan in place to overcome them by taking a leave of absence” (Cimino did not clarify in his letter as to what exactly he was referring to in speaking of a “leave of absence,” nor did he provide a clarification in response to an email query on the matter from Sudbury.com).
“Once the election was over, I was made aware by the board that the plan to take a leave of absence did not apply to my situation, in which I made the decision to step-down,” Cimino goes on to say in his letter.
“The option of doing a placement at another board was always there for me, however, Sudbury Catholic was the board I believe suited my teacher-candidate needs the best. Having the plan in place to make both work gave me the opportunity to continue to run. Once again, it was only after the election I was made aware that I could not take a leave of absence.”
Sudbury Catholic board chair Michael Bellmore said he could not speak for Cimino, or comment on his letter of resignation. He also said he has no control over who does or does not run for school board trustee within the Sudbury Catholic board.
However, he said the board now has to replace Cimino within 90 days, whether that’s by appointing someone in his place — possibly by inviting eligible people to apply — or holding a byelection.
“At first blush, the byelection is extremely expensive,” Bellmore said.
The board chair said Sudbury Catholic will be exploring options to replace Cimino at their next meeting, which is being held this evening.
Bellmore said the neighbouring Nipissing-Parry Sound Catholic District School Board has actually just gone through the same thing. Trustee Frank O’Hagan also resigned last month, shortly after his election to the board.
The Nipissing-Parry Sound Catholic board voted to appoint Leo de Jourdan as O’Hagan’s replacement.
“In my time here, it's the first time I've ever experienced this,” Bellmore said.
“I've had colleagues around the province who experienced this before, where people have resigned or unfortunately passed away. So it's something new to experience. It's unfortunate that he (Cimino) left the board. We'll have to figure it out.
“(Provincial legislation) stipulates we have a certain amount of days to fill the seat. So we're going to make sure that we follow that timeline and ensure that the folks in that ward have good representation as soon as we possibly can, because that's what's important.”
In early November, Sudbury.com also spoke to Patrick Daly, president of the Ontario Catholic Trustees’ Association, about some of the issues surrounding Cimino’s situation.
He said the rule about trustees not being allowed to hold paid employment with any school board was brought in by the provincial government in the late 1990s.
“I assume it was in terms of minimizing conflict of interest and bias,” Daly said.
While not wanting to speculate about Cimino’s specific case, Daly said with the situation of a student teacher doing a placement within a school board, “clearly, in the scenario you're describing, the individual is not an employee of the school board.”
Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.