Level of Government?

Lance Bean, President
Canadian School Board Association

Mr Bean,

I am writing to you today regarding the comments you made regarding the suspension of the Halifax Regional School Board that were printed in today’s Chronicle Herald.

I appreciate your concern, but with respect, I would like to challenge the basis of your thesis, but also to ask for your input.

Education is not a level of government. It is a service. Services are rarely run by elected boards in Canada. The police and water commissions, the utility and review board, the lottery corporation, regional health authorities, are not elected.

We are not Americans. We do not elected judges, district attorneys, sheriffs and dog catchers!

There are a great many reasons why I personally feel the Board here needed to be done away with. In Halifax, the service delivery area is bigger than PEI, and the population is only 350,000 people. It takes three to four hours to drive from one end to the other. The Board, as a part time affair, can never visit every school in their elected district, let alone visit a smattering of schools in the districts on the other side of the region. The Board is not paid enough nor as part timers with full time jobs are they able to research issues and understand community concerns to a sufficient degree. The Board’s districts were political “riding” style districts, rather than adhering to school family or education service area lines, and those that were elected were often “wannabe” politicians.

We have had several elections since elected boards were introduced in 1991, and several since the regional board was created in 1996. The results speak for themselves. We have elected two boards in the last two elections that were populated, in the majority, by people with petty agendas, malicious goals, and destructive agendas, that played one community against the other. Time has shown that electing boards is not producing good results.

In Nova Scotia, the Minister of Education, the Cabinet and the Premier are responsible for administering and funding the Education Act. It has long been argued that school boards exist to obscure that fact and “keep the heat off” the Minister. We have elected and accountable officials, they are called MLAs and Ministers.

With all this in mind, we get to the part where I ask for your input. There is definitely a review underway on how school systems should be administered, what form of oversight should be in placem in the province. What would you do differently? Smaller boards, more pay, full time chair, elected by SACs in each family of school, some elected some appointed, all appointed, made a department of the Municipality, no board (Nova Scotia is about the size of Calgary, but has a half dozen boards), are all being discussed.

What are your thoughts? Where school boards work, what have they done differently? Are there models that we should be looking to?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Thank you,

Waye Mason