“He (YRDSB trustee) was told that (such) meetings have to be organized through board staff, and board staff have to be present,” said (MPP Frank) Klees, who did not identify the trustee. “The implication was, not so subtly, that this was grounded in legislation.”I've been expecting this since the passage of Bill 177, particularly with the provincial-interest regulations that were posted late in 2010. Some trustees recognized the way the bill and regulations would change their jobs and decided they wanted no part of it and didn't run for re-election. Others understand their newly defined roles, and still others don't but ran anyway.
Klees said he’s frustrated that unelected board staff “who have no accountability to the electorate are running the show, and elected trustees are sidelined.”
Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky said trustees are accountable to their constituents — not board staff — adding there’s no reason why they can’t meet with parents.
Ross Virgo, spokesperson for the York Region District School Board, said trustees are free to speak to anyone they wish. But the advice given was “to avoid situations in which trustees may feel compelled to support parent positions on specific incidents or operational matters without the benefit of a staff member to provide information and context.”
The biggest governance measures implemented by the legislation is that trustees are more like corporate governors than they've ever been in the past. So, in theory, per the new rules, the memo is not off base. It's not the trustees' direct responsibility to interfere, involve themselves or resolve operational issues at a school level. The only person trustees as a group can provide any direction to is their director of education. That leaves trustees directly responsible for setting board policies and budgets. It's far more hands-off governance than is the tradition and history in this province, particularly given how many trustees put their name forward for the position because they have a history with local schools.
So advice to not meet with their constituents solo on school-level operational matters is actually not bad advice based on the current Education Act and its regulations. Is it bad politics? Well, that's an entirely separate question. Does it overreach? Well, it depends on what the trustee does with the information given by the constituent. If the trustee tries to fix the problem him/herself, then they're overreaching their legislated role. Plus, the trustee is not allowed to give direction to a principal, a superintendent or a teacher.
However, if the trustee received the complaint and then, through the board of trustees, brought it to the attention of the director of education for a resolution, that's kosher. If the board of trustees told (through a recommendation or motion) the director of education to do something about it and nothing was done, then trustees would be fully within their rights to decide on a consequence for the director (or for the director to implement).
Dombrowsky's right in her comments too-- trustees are accountable to their constituents. But the only person they can tell what to do is the director of education.