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.