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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 3, November/December 2005

Preserve local, elected school boards

Teachers don’t always agree with the decisions made by their school board. Despite this, we believe that the best form of education governance maintains a significant role for elected trustees who represent their community.

Why do we feel we have to reaffirm this position now? School boards are under threat. According to reports made by school trustees to their local boards, Deputy Minister of Education Emery Dosdall has put them on notice. At a meeting of the BC School Trustees Association, he told trustees that this might be their last election. Plans for restructuring education governance could restructure them out of existence, to be replaced by provincial or regional bodies.

He didn’t give them much time to think about the issue or to organize an effective argument for the value of local school boards. The legislation for the spring agenda will be developed in early December, and the boards would have to get their feedback in by late November—about the same time that new school boards are elected.

School boards don’t need to be re-purposed
The deputy minister told the school trustees that if school boards aren’t eliminated, they will have to be re-purposed. This re-purposing seems to involve birth-to-death responsibilities.

The education ministry has been given new mandates, as reported in the "2005–06—2007–08 Service Plan Update." It says because "the Ministry of Education is responsible for literacy services, the ministry will be able to address the needs of the whole family—from preschoolers to grandparents." Public libraries and library boards have been moved into the Ministry of Education as well.

Services in all of these areas are important—preschool, with the new money coming in from the federal government, public libraries and library boards, and services to seniors to keep them active in the community. And it is true that co-ordination of activities is important.

That does not mean that these should all come under one governance structure at the regional or community level. The healthcare regional structures, across services, and with appointed boards, is not the model that should be followed in education. Services for preschool children and public libraries, for example, should be governed by structures that have interests and expertise in those areas.

In addition, elected school boards have been an important institution of democracy. For more than a century, communities have been able to influence their public education system through electing trustees. That democratic tradition should not be undermined by eliminating elections or by moving responsibility from elected representatives to provincial bureaucrats.

School boards already have an important purpose—running effective public schools that reflect community interests and needs. That is a big job, if it is being done well. School boards don’t need to be re-purposed.

School boards have lost important responsibilities
There is no question that school boards have lost important responsibilities. They no longer have taxation authority. Their total budgets are set entirely by the provincial government. Their responsibility for collective bargaining was handed over to BCPSEA, and boards seem to have little influence over its decisions, taking orders, rather than giving direction.

These situations should be reversed. Barring that, school boards still can and should play an important role in making decisions about education in their communities. Having a local board that parents can go to with their concerns and ideas makes education services more responsive. If not, parents can express their views in the next election and try to make changes. That does not happen with appointed boards.

Bad timing for proposing changes in governance
This proposed change has been dropped on school districts and their communities right in the middle of an election. Existing board members have been given little time to undertake consideration of a big issue. New board members taking office with a fresh mandate may be presented with a fait accompli without any chance to demonstrate that school boards can be effective if they retain or regain a sense of the importance of their role in the community.

Let the Select Standing Committee on Education consider future directions for governance. There is no urgency to abolish school boards or restructure and re-purpose them. The Select Standing Committee should hear what the public has to say and report back with recommendations to either change existing mandates and governance, or maintain them.

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