School Boards are Agents of the State


Instead of being overseers of education in their communities and the representatives of parents and public to the bureaucrrats in the school board office, trustees are really an extension of the provincial government.  Elected trustees and board officials, once they get in tandem after the first few months after an election and some training, become field agents to the central authority.  They are not autonomous like municipal councils.

This was well-described by a newspaper reporter before the last board elections last fall, 2008.

School trustees Victoria’s puppets

"No taxation without . . . meaningful representation."

By Bill Bell, North Shore News October 12, 2008

If ever there was a dirty political trick played on the people in British Columbia, it is when we go to the polls every three years to elect school board trustees in the belief that the people we will elect will have a real say in the management of our childrens’ schools and education.

It was more than 30 years ago when I was first assigned the school board beat by then North Shore News publisher Peter Speck. Both North and West Vancouver school boards had "big" personalities running them, and in those days the trustees had real power over local taxation and in negotiating with the teachers and staff.

North Vancouver had Marg Jessup and Dorothy Lynas to name but two great and wonderful trustees who played significant roles in the development of the schools on the North Shore. And of course West Vancouver was chaired by the youngest politician in Canada, West Vancouver political power broker Mark Sager. School board meetings were always packed to the brim with concerned parents, teachers and taxpayers as board members dealt with bona fide issues at the local level.

Now the trustees are frontline fall guys to the directives that come from across the Strait of Georgia. No real budget control, no real control over the physical schools, and as far as negotiating with teachers, the real power there was taken away years ago.

So why would a bright and politically astute guy, like Chris Dorais, who has been chair of the North Vancouver school board and a trustee for the past six years want to run again in the November municipal elections?

I asked Dorais what he thought would make for better education on the North Shore; his answers didn’t really surprise me.

"Three changes would make a significant difference for the role of our board of education in local decision making:

  •      reinstating local taxation authority;
  •      dismantling provincial bargaining;
  •     discontinuing any provincial control over our local capital assets and sale of property.

"The biggest complaint I have . . . is not necessarily the increase in powers I would like to see, but is more about the constant change in authority delegated through School Act changes as well as ministerial orders. They seem to be an annual event or sometimes more frequent, and they take place with no consultation. "

What Dorais is saying is that even if the powers that be in Victoria gave back some of the local authority that they have taken away (school board local autonomy has been dismantled under all three of the past political administrations, Social Credit, New Democrat and most recently by the Liberals), the lack of any consistency by the government in its directives is driving him and many other school trustees crazy — not to mention a few school superintendents.

"Two recent examples would be the government’s 2007/2008 mid-school year announcement on reducing funding through a per-course payment for secondary students after the budget was already set, and more recently the announcement of restrictions on the sale of properties," Dorais explained.

So what is the answer? "The province has been taking away our local control of schools over the past 25 years. I really doubt that they will return that power to our local school representatives," said Dorais.

But he thinks that some power could be returned to the school boards and if that happened there would be some very quick improvements to the school system. Two that would make an immediate and substantial difference with additional funding are:

  •    long-term lease of surplus properties resulting in ongoing funds targeted to new equipment and technology for teachers and students in the classroom. Say Dorais: "I would like to see every school equipped like our new Sutherland secondary."
  •   funding for professional development and implementation of a new model for special needs education providing a choice for families and students and providing more support resources to help students and teachers in the classroom in the area of special needs.

Dreaming? Or strongly believing that his participation can make a difference in the lives and education of North Vancouver school children, Dorais is sticking to his principles and once again putting his hat into a political ring that demands long and hard hours. The only real satisfaction he gets is the smiles on the faces of June’s graduation classes.

Must be worth it!



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