Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Moira's awake

OK, so the Toronto Sun's Moira MacDonald is awake and writing up a storm these days (or, she wrote these a while ago and they're only running now-- it happens). Today's topic is Bill 177, which readers here would be familiar with since I blogged about the bill when it was given first reading in the legislature a few months ago. I also published a story about it here, given Thames Valley District School Board trustee Peggy Sattler's membership on the governance review committee whose recommendations are reflected in the bill.
MacDonald's main contention is the bill is another big step in the provincial takeover of school boards, given its provisions stipulating a trustee's role, changes in debt instruments and student achievement and well-being.
On the one hand, trustees are to "bring concerns of parents, students and supporters of the board to the attention of the board." But if the rest of the board disagrees, the trustee nevertheless must "support the implementation of any board resolution after it is passed by the board."
Trustees are also not to "[interfere] in the day-to-day management of the board by its officers and staff." This could work well for meddlesome trustees with too much time on their hands.
MacDonald moves on to indicate this provision could handcuff trustees who disagree with majority decisions. My read, not being a lawyer, is this would still allow for dissent. It's possible to disagree with a decision (and continue dissenting in any future related resolutions) without interfering with the implementation of board decisions. Many boards allow reconsideration in their bylaws, which if the dissenting trustee can convince enough of their peers, could lead to another vote on the original decision.
Would this muzzle outspoken, media-friendly trustees? I'll say no.
Bill 177 will also stop boards from borrowing money independently for major building projects. Instead, they would have to borrow money from the Ontario Financing Authority, the Ontario government's lending agency.
For most boards, that's OK. The OFA's rates are supposed to be good. As well, when boards borrow money, the debt shows up on provincial books, so it's understandable the province wants more control.
But large boards, such as the TDSB, fear that being forced to deal with the OFA may drive up their borrowing and/or banking costs. Because of their size, large boards often get preferential rates on their borrowing and/or banking when they bundle their services with a particular bank. If they have to take their borrowing business to the OFA, they may end up borrowing money at a higher rate and/or losing preferential rates on the rest of their banking.
This element of the bill passed by me, as I was unaware there were many boards out there still doing their own borrowing, since the Ministry of Education has been awarding capital projects based on the board debenturing the project through the OFA and simply having the province front the board the annual payment. I also don't believe this is a serious impediment.
I agree with MacDonald's assessment this bill is aimed at further centralization of control at the provincial level through regulation. However, she may have missed the boat. I wasn't as committed to following province-wide education coverage at the time, but Bill 78, passed in Gerard Kennedy's days, was a far bigger power grab than Bill 177 could be. We're still awaiting some of the regulations permitted under Bill 78, and it was passed over three years ago.
My big concern with legislation by regulation is the regulations can change after any election since they're approved by cabinet. Legislation at least requires vetting by the legislature, whatever that may be worth in a majority government setting.


Anonymous said...

I think trustees have lost their authority long ago actually.

All this does is drive home the fact that the system is in control of unelected Ministry bureaucrats, and that we risk losing local authority altogether.

I read in the London Free Press yesterday that former AMO president is rallying small/rural communities to challenge the Education Minister on the disproportionate number of small/rural schools closing in comparison to larger urban board(as you posted earlier this week ER). The Community Schools Alliance wants to preserve and support small schools.

While there are those who should close, I get really pissed at the imbalance of it all. After reading about how both Toronto boards can get funding for half-filled schools at the same time as we're closing them....small/rural communities need advocates and the Community Schools Alliance.