McGuinty gov’t made school board trustee powerless

I want all Ontarians to know, but particularly professional journalists and the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, that the changes the McGuinty government made to the Education Act through the “Student Achievement and School Board Governance Act, 2009,” has made the role of elected trustee completely and utterly meaningless.

For example, read the “Making a Difference for Kids: Running for Election as a School Board Trustee.” It is not a long document but there are truths hidden in plain sight within its pages. Specifically, while there are a lot of motherhood statements about how important trustees are to school boards in terms of accountability and mediating among conflicting interests and values, there is even more about how elected trustees are simply one member of a “team” and that once the “team” makes a decision, individual trustees should be seen and not heard.

I mean, everyone knows a school board is a “team.” But, what we haven’t really understood is how the legislation is now essentially about conformity and acquiescence — the very antithesis of democracy. For example (my highlighting):

“School trustees are the members of the District School Board. They are locally-elected representatives of the public, and they are the community’s advocate for public education.” (Page 4)

Only the team (the Board), not an individual trustee, has the authority to make decisions or take action. A school board must place all students first when making any decision.” (Page 4)

Trustees are required to uphold the implementation of any board resolution after it is passed by the board. In exercising their role, they are required to comply with the board’s code of conduct.” (Page 4 — What code of conduct?)

“Under the Education Act trustee power lies solely in membership on the corporate school board. As members of the corporate board, trustees are legally accountable to the public and the Minister of Education for collaborative decisions of the board…This means that once the Board has voted, it is a trustee’s responsibility to act in a manner that promotes and upholds the board’s decision and to communicate the board’s decision back to the constituency.” (Page 7)

“Acceptance to serve on a school board assumes an awareness of the legislated expectations and responsibilities conferred through legislation, provincial policy, contractual agreements or any other mechanism. Trustees must act within these parameters, and be aware of the consequences of decisions that don’t respect these commitments. “(Page 7 What consequences?) 

So, a rhetorical question might be: What good is electing a trustee based on what the candidate communicated during his or her campaign?  I mean, if a board wants to close a school, just how much can a trustee say or do? It would appear, not much if the board as a whole has already voted to close it.

In effect, then, the McGuinty Liberal government has made the role of school board trustee absolutely powerless — nothing more than window dressing. And, is that erosion an “attack on democracy?” You bet it is and Ontarians need to deal with it in the Ontario provincial election in October 2011 — by booting the McGuinty crew out!

Update: Article revised slightly on September 6th, 2010.

6 thoughts on “McGuinty gov’t made school board trustee powerless

  1. Yes but all of this was started by Harris with amalgamation Bill 160 etc. It all began becuse the NDP had a strong influence on the Toronto board and various other boards around Ontario, Ottawa in particular but others as well. Instead of saying, “well that is what the local people wanted and voted for” both Harris/Eves and McGuinty began to gut the boards. Ok that that is their prerogative but it means that parents will gradually trace all of the problems back to the source and the government MPPs will get all of the calls that say “my child needs a special ed program but the TDSB says it just does not have the money since your grants do not cover the true cost.” If you want the control, you need to take the responsibility with it. The greatest loss to the school boards was the ability to raise taxes to fund needed programs. Harris took that away with Bill 160. The day that passed, the boards no longer existed for all intents and purposes.


  2. Ah yes Doug, blame Mike Harris! LOL I knew Bill 160 by heart and the only thing in it that affected trustees was taking the taxing powers away and board amalgamation. You have conveniently forgotten that the reason the taxing powers were taken away was because some board trustees took full-time salaries and gave in to the unions constantly, raising taxes by 160% over the five years of the Rae government. Scarborough comes to mind with $65,00 a year stipends. The changes I am speaking about in my post are strictly caused by the McGuinty amendment in 2009.

    In other words, the don’t rock the boat and keep quiet “code of conduct” is in the here and now.

    Oh, I know, I’ve heard it all before, the boards should be able to tax. If that were still the case, our education taxes would be double what they are today. Easily. If they had that option taken away, they have only themselves to blame.


  3. The $65 000 salary sounds quite outrageous, but it was a decision made by trustees and would have been supported or opposed by the local voters. The change to $5 000 a year showed a lack of respect to trustees and a misunderstanding of the importance they play in the lives of many voters. Everyone knew that in most urban centres, a trustee job could not be part time. Just like you could not have the mayor of Toronto or Ottawa receive part time pay because the province wanted all mayors to be treated and paid equally in the province.

    The Harris years took away many powers from local boards, especially taxation, and tried to make everyone the same, when the reality is that not all people and communities are the same. The McGuinty years is continuing this trend.


  4. Trustees pay should be linked exactly to city council pay in the cities and Reeve/DR in rural areas. $65000 is far too low to attract quality candidates to do a full time job. You need to attract lawyers, professors, carpenters away from full time work exactly like city council to have effective political control of the situation. The trustees were accountable to the electorat for their raises. Harris only took the taxing power just one little thing. That one little thing is the existential question for boards. Without it, they really do not exist.

    What is wrong with double the education taxes? You say that as if it is a bad thing. A quality system costs money but only at the start. The new economic report on ELP shows how it actually saves far more than it costs. The more you spend on education, the lower your overall tax bill will be because you can spend far less on the police, welfare, social services, courts, prisons etc. There is an overall incredible net savings.


  5. Perhaps I’m not as much of a cynic.
    Bill 177 dramatically changed the way trustees do their jobs. It turned them into corporate governors. Those with corporate governance experience could speak to it, but when you’re a member of a corporate board, you hire staff (directors of education) set policy and approve budgets.
    When you’re on a board, the chair speaks for the board. That doesn’t eliminate the opportunity for discussion, debate and disagreement prior to the vote. If anything, a good trustee will now ensure they’re not pulling any punches prior to voting so that each issue can get a good airing. That also calls on trustees, as board members, to know that all lost battles have an end, somewhere. Most boards allow for reconsideration of a particular item after it’s been voted on, depending on their individual procedures. Failing a reconsideration, the board (as a whole) has made its decision and it’s time to move on.

    Oh, and on the codes of conduct, Bill 177 and the pending regulations from it ask boards to develop codes of conduct. This is no different than what municipalities were allowed to do post-2006.



  6. Hugo — I am certainly not a cynic. My problem was that I read that document especially carefully because, initially at least, I thought I would be running for public school trustee. My problem is that once elected, trustees get co-opted by the system and then are completely ineffective, particularly if their hands are tied behind their back with threats of a code of conduct. So, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this issue, particularly with respect to trustees being unable to say anything once the whole board takes a vote. I mean, it is obvious that once a vote is taken, the issue is over but if someone disagrees based on the needs or wishes of their constituents, they should be able to say something. Moreover, no decision is etched in stone, or at least they shouldn’t be. Mistakes do happen and presenting a different motion should be possible.


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