Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The forgotten filers

Jan. 4 was the first day in Ontario that one could file his/her nomination papers and run for trustee within a publicly funded school board. The nomination period closes at 2 p.m. on Sept. 10 and voting day across the province for civic politicians and school board trustees is set for Oct. 25.
While there was a plethora of coverage across Ontario on the early birds filing for municipal office, there was scant if any on those who might be filing for trustee. No big surprise, even though some of these trustees oversee budgets that are larger than any of the municipalities within their district. For example, the public school board I cover, with a annual budget of over $700 million easily outweighs any local council I cover-- the County of Oxford would have the largest budget in my coverage area and it sits at approx $150 million. I don't know the City of London's total budget (including all federal and provincial transfers, not just the taxpayer levy) but if it's over $700 million it's not by much. Yes, yes... I am well aware trustees don't have all the supposed flexibility that councils do in determining budgets, but it's still one of the things they are responsible for and held to account over.
With the changes in Bill 177 and the pending provincial-interest regulations, those elected in this vote will be a cohort of trustees that have a lot of work ahead of them in terms of governing directors of education and board staff members through the process of planning, setting and being held accountable for all sorts of targets. Will the passage of the bill weed out trustees?
In many districts, this year's election is also the first opportunity for those communities still angry about school-closure decisions to enforce a consequence on trustees-- particularly in cases where the trustee(s) elected from the area supported a controversial closure. Will there be a slate of anti-closure trustees elected across the province? This vote will come in the middle of reviews at a number of boards and could -- might -- change the direction / flavour / outcome of those reviews. I've already noticed one trustee who's started abstaining from any vote relating to an accommodation review. The same trustee who, in the first round of reviews before her board, voted in favour of some closures (urban and rural) and voted against others (rural). I was struck with interest by her sudden decision to abstain from a series of votes relating to two reviews in December 2009.
Further, in those boards that seem to have courted controversy this past term -- ie: Bluewater, Toronto District Catholic -- which incumbents will run again and who will rise above the fray to challenge them?
Coverage can be key in trustee elections since very rarely to never are opportunities created for public all-candidate trustee debates. Outside of any promotion / advertising / campaigning a particular candidate might decide to take on, media often offer the only wide-scale, accessible platform for voters to get to know their candidates. We can also seriously impact outcomes-- the first trustee vote I covered saw an opportunity to call a candidate on a statement he made regarding his attendance at board meetings. On election night, he subsequently commented on the impact of newspaper headlines on his loss. In the 2006 vote, the London Free Press did some routine background checking on a Catholic school board trustee candidate and uncovered a less-than-glamorous past that led to that candidate's loss.
The election will add some additional, er, spice, to the coming 10 months of K-12 education in this province. I look forward to it.


Anonymous said...

"Will the passage of the bill weed out trustees?"

Don't know but it I'm betting it scares them off.

In my region few want the job. There's usually a shhhh, don't tell anyone but a quiet recruitment by board admin. and municipalities to coax candidates. As a matter of fact, it was just pointed out to me that my town's trustee had moved away over a year ago, but was still serving as trustee. Not a big deal however as it was overlooked because another trustee resigned because they felt that they could better "make a difference" elsewhere. Ouch! Rumour had it here that this trustee's only goal was to save the community's school. Once that was met...bye,bye trustee.

The retiring trustee was replaced by former principal and spokesperson for the local NDP(that may be changed). The rumour around this is that this trustee is out to save a school from closure too. Small town rumours is why I tried hard to get to the truth because they seriously undermine all the good in people.

We seem to attract former teachers, and principals to our board. I think that turns people off too because they think that they're not on the same level either professionally or educationally.

Sad really, but it is what it is.

I've always suspected that the greatest myth about school boards is that they represent local control of policies, directions etc. That's simply hasn't been my experience. If anything the unique perspective of local education has been swallowed up by central control first begun with Harris and taken to the max. with McGuinty.

When the general public see trustees as jr. arms of the governments, local needs get sucked into the black hole of sameness and bland.

That's not very exciting to me, so I'm sure not very exciting for the prospects of trustee candidates.


Education Reporter said...

Maybe I'm still struck by optimism or naivety.

Trustees can still influence a lot of what becomes local character within their district boards. They can create local policy. They can hire staff members to benefit local schools with their particular talents. They can create facilities designed to take advantage of the best modern physical learning spaces available today.

Bill 177 may scare away the trustee or candidate who thinks their role is to get their fingers dirty in figuring out issues like why Johnny's bus stop is on this corner instead of mine. It's not. It's more akin to the board of a corporation-- set policy and budgets, hire a CEO, hold the CEO accountable to implement said policy and budgets. It's similar to other public agency boards that deal with single government funders-- hospital boards of trust come to mind.

That can still allow for plenty of local flavour.

If you're still wondering what's in my KoolAid, I'm willing to share.



Anonymous said...

I guess I don't see the local connections being nurtured between trustee and school community as it once was.

I do believe that in the end trustees made some gains in the Bill but I'm still pissed I guess from school board amalgamations because it moved those trustees further away from their constituents.

Also, the role of creating schools in my opinion is entirely gone to central command. So much appears prescripted from the MOE that sometimes it feels like there's a huge disconnect between gov't and schools.

I can't see boards lasting the way they are.

I see them going the way of LHINS simply because we're spending too much money on facilitating fewer and fewer students. AND, if the gov't's looking for efficiencies boards are where they're going to look.

I remember when I was first elected to school council and the trustee at the time of the board(before amalgamation) was so involved with parents and schools. Now they have to juggle their time between too many meetings and traveling these enormous board areas.

Something was lost and is still being lost, at least in smaller, more rural boards.

Koolaid? You know what. I can be optimistic too ER. I just don't see the role of trustees being used to their best advantage.

I shared what I felt was going on in my region. Something's got to change...I'm not sure what, but
it isn't even about money. Something's missing.