Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bil 177's first test?

The Star's Kristin Rushowy had a piece move Wednesday evening in regards to what I think may be the first real test of the changes brought about by the omnibus Bill 177 passed in the last legislative session in Ontario. It's a kerfuffle at Queen's Park over advice given to York Region District School Board trustees.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.


Anonymous said...

wow ER - in reading your post I couldn't help wondering whether it was Ontario or Cuba where this strangle hold of elected representatives is taking place.

It's is the taxpayer who pays for and votes for the trustee based, one would assume on some sort of expertise, character or understanding of their community at the very least this legislation is nothing more than continuing the eroding of the role of trustees and a move to make them an arm of the government instead of the connection parents, students, community has with the school board.

It tells me that this gov't doesn't think very highly about the intellect of trustees by having them chaperoned by board staff.

I'd be happy to see this Bill gone because it's no longer a guarantee that a community can count on their elected trustee being an effective representative of their school communities.

If anything trustees need to have those ties that bind them to administration and government cut.

It was rumoured that this is the first step by this gov't to move to a LHINS type of model for school boards.

Education Reporter said...

I have to admit I don't see it as a stranglehold. This is not Cuba, or we would have had warmer weather this week.

Are trustees' roles different? Yes.
Can they still advocate for their constituents? Yes.
Can they hold the staff members who work for them accountable? Yes.
Can they still etch out programs and services within their schools suited to their communities? Yes.
Are they still accountable to their constituents? Yes.

The difference is how they do it.
Bill 177 changed some of the rules so that the trustee who used to be the fixer, walking into their local school and changing things, can't do that anymore.
It aligns their role far more closely with that of a municipal councillor and, even, a hospital board of trust member.
A city councillor cannot walk into the local recreation centre and start fixing a constituent's complaint. A hospital board of trust member cannot likewise walk up to the nursing station and start telling the nurses what to do or how to do something.

It tells trustees that their role-- where they can effectively represent their constituents-- is around the board table. That's where their influence should be focused and that's where they have the ability to set policy, demand accountability and take action when the people who work for them aren't meeting expectations.