Saturday, July 17, 2010

Do away with school boards?

Caught a tweet on this one today, a Globe and Mail article by Kate Hammer asking the question on whether school boards should be shut down by the provincial ministries that oversee them.
The In Focus piece looks at a number of different perspectives, covering the evolution / devolution of school-board responsibilities in Ontario over the past 15 years, the complete dissolution of school boards in New Brunswick (and their return, sort of), the mayoral-control model advocated by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and perspectives from Vancouver and Quebec.
“We used to have some local taxation authority, which has been lost to the province. We used to bargain more locally with our employee groups, and the bulk of that has now gone to the provincial level,” says Patti Bacchus, chair of the Vancouver School Board.
The last role left for trustees is that of advocate, but a new law in Ontario blocks trustees from publicly criticizing board decisions, and the Vancouver School Board's trustees nearly risked their jobs taking a stand this summer against British Columbia's Ministry of Education over funding.
Looking to international models, critics argue that eliminating school boards would generate millions of dollars of savings each year in every province, and remove a layer of bureaucratic red tape.
“School boards and trustees are in the midst of an evolutionary process,” says Toronto District School Board trustee Josh Matlow. “Ours is far from a functioning model.”
Mr. Matlow says he believes that boards should be swallowed by local government. But would we be throwing the babies out with the school boards?
I can't effectively speak to what's been happening outside this province, but I think there's still plenty of space, time and opportunity for effective local school boards to run publicly funded education in this province. Even with the move from Bill 177 to continue a process that turns school boards and trustees into something more akin to a corporate board of directors, a good trustee who understands that and a good board can still exert significant local flavour into how they work with provincial dollars and directives.
Though provincial funding is shaping the size and composition of new school construction, and ministry oversight exists on the general location, it's still a local board of trustees that finalizes a site selection, architectural design and the name of the school. On the flip side, though there's a lot of the ministry in the school-closure process, the province has maintained a steadfast line on not overruling these local decisions— even when the people making them locally feel they were channeled down that path by the province.
There's a balance to be struck between local and provincial control over schools. Are we there yet in this province? Great question, perhaps solved over a beverage or two with others who might see differently than I. What I do struggle with however is saying there's a trend afoot to kill off school boards altogether, given only one province has done so.
H/T Paul, who RT'd it earlier today.


Anonymous said...

Unless trustees work hard in reclaiming their constituencies the long arm of this incredibly hands-on central government will see the necessity of trustees eroded to the point where the locals can't tell whether their elected trustee is simply another arm of the MOE bureaucracy.

This hasn't just happened. This happened as more control was wrestled from communities and put into the hands of government which at times is as far and removed from the needs of communities as one can get.

I started with the "bigger is better" concept of amalgamation but the current government has managed to be a worse controlling mechanism than was the previous government.

If trustees can't prove to their communities that they're in charge and not well-paid bureaucrats they can be saved.

If not, then our schools will be doomed to run from central control.