November 22, 2007
Dear Mr Windsor,
I am writing to you today regarding your request for opinion regarding the HRSB’s upcoming application to the Utility and Review Board Regarding Number and Boundary of Electoral Districts.
Speaking only for myself today, while reflecting on my recent fourteen months experience advocating for my community and quality education in the Halifax Region, I would like to outline several thoughts regarding the opportunities and pitfalls this review creates. Specifically, I would like to address four areas: the selection of the Board, the composition of districts, the size of the districts, the naming of the Board.
Selecting the Board: I agree with the parent who presented to you yesterday night, electing the Board does not work. We have had about two decades of experiment with elected Boards, and the results are poor. As Canadians we don’t elect sheriffs, judges, or the water commissioners, nor should we elect a school board. Education is a service. The Minister of Education is responsible for the service, and he or she is elected. The Board has little of the power normally associated with an elected body, as it cannot sign contracts with its workers, or set tax rates. Why elect this group?
Other jurisdictions, such as Ontario, are toying with returning to appointed Boards, or turning education over to the municipalities. HRM running HRSB would go against the very foundation of the Haywood Report and the entire provincial direction of social services provided from the provincial tax pool and property taxes paying for property services, and I cannot support such a model.
I suggest that a model based on the metro university governance, the Nova Scotia Community College, or even the Water Commission would be far better. There are plenty of precedents and models that are already in use in the province. 4-5 Provincial appointees, 4-5 people recruited by the elected Board, 2 HRM councillors, 2 elected staff reps, 2 elected student reps, and 2 elected SAC reps would be a good place to start. Appoint them for 4-5 years, stagger the terms, recruit the very best people you can guilt into serving (as you yourself were not doubt asked to come out of retirement and serve for the greater good). This would actually be larger than the current model, but I am sure with the right mandate from the minister and the right leadership that we could see our community served better than it has been since 1996.
An appointed board aided and enhanced by more regularized “Super-SAC” meetings would better serve the public good.
Composition of Districts: In the event that the Board continues to be elected, districts will remain an issue. The current status quo is that each district of HRSB includes two districts of HRM council. This means the district size and shape is not reflective of actual educational service delivery areas. There has been a proposal that each family of schools should be a district. Proponents of this suggestion had also suggested that each school district Super-SAC elect a representative to serve on the Board. While the later may not be something that is available under the act, the former may. This would give HRSB a council of 14. Regional factionalism and NIMBY syndrome may occur (it was occurring anyway), but this model may allow for the reconnection of the Board members to organized and active constituencies, keeping the elected Board grounded in this educational reality. Perhaps a recall provision could be considered, as well, to allow the electorate to enforce good behavior.
Size of Districts: I don’t think having a smaller Board will address interpersonal issues the last elected Board faced. Far too many of the Board members have been elected unopposed, and while we all hope that this might change in the next election, there is nothing to say that we might end up with 4 or 8 people who win by acclimation and still lack the personal and professional ability to be successful Board members.
The elected Board members, paid only $7000.00 a year, are essentially volunteers. Having to do the job of a Board member in their spare time while holding down a day job is very difficult. When the Board grew from the size of Halifax, or Dartmouth, to be HRM wide, the elected members were no longer able to rely on their innate sense of “what needed to be done” in their community. A Board rep in the old city of Dartmouth “just knew,” or at least had an idea! The Districts are already far to big for that. Fewer districts, representing even more schools, will not create a more tenable situation.
Naming of the Board: This may be beyond the scope of the URB, or the HRSB, but I strongly recommend that the elected or oversight apparatus of the Board be renamed, or the rest of the Board renamed, to clearly outline the difference between the decision making body and the staff and admin. Halifax Regional School Trustees? Halifax Regional School Administration? The Cabinet is not the Province, or Council is not HRM, so the Board should not be the Board.
Why is this important, you ask? For one, it causes a lot of confusion amongst the public, and needless concern and worry for teachers and principals. “Is he criticizing my employer again?” Criticizing or critiquing the elected board is okay in everyday discourse, this is fair comment, but treating the overall staff and Board admin in the same fashion would rarely be acceptable! The fundamentally political and representative role of the Board, elected or not, requires rigorous public discussion, debate, and sometimes more! Clearly separating oversight from admin would help greatly to reduce confusion and increase the quality of this debate.
I thank you for your time, and commend you for all your hard work,
Parent of Emma, 8, and Rhett, 13
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