One year on as a one-man board | The

Windsor took control when previous school group was fired; most think he’s done well

Howard Windsor stands in the Halifax Regional School Board chambers in Dartmouth on Monday. Mr Windsor has been head of the disbanded board for a year today. (Peter Parsons / Staff)

Hats off to Howard Windsor, the president of the Nova Scotia School Boards Association says.

“I really wondered, but a year later, I think that he’s done the job that the minister of education put him there to do,” Elliott Payzant said Tuesday. “It’s one man doing it, but I think he’s been successful.

Mr. Windsor, Halifax’s one-man school board, celebrates his one-year anniversary on the job today. Education Minister Karen Casey appointed the former civil servant to replace the 13 elected members of the Halifax regional school board.

Although an unelected school board isn’t ideal, Mr. Payzant said, the situation seems to be working out so far.

“I think he’s provided an opportunity for public input,” said Mr. Payzant, who made a presentation to Mr. Windsor last Wednesday evening at the board’s monthly public submissions meeting. “He’s also, to a reasonable extent, gone out into the community and sought input.”

And that’s proof positive Mr. Windsor is holding himself and others accountable, he said.

“I think that he’s done things that we would expect any school board to do,” Mr. Payzant said. “I think (Ms. Casey) got the right person to do the job; I’m not sure that anyone else could have done the job.”

But having one person act as a school board for too long is running a real risk.

“You’re asking for autocracy instead of democracy,” Mr. Payzant said. “That’s the danger that would be there — but it hasn’t happened.”

Marcus Tabachnick, president of the Canadian School Boards Association, agreed elected boards are vital to keeping schools and students successful.

“Across Canada, we have elected school boards,” he said Tuesday from Montreal. “That keeps us as one of the leaders in the world in student performance. I think it forces us to make policy decisions that are always striving for improvement. We can’t get complacent because we all face the electorate every three or four years.”

As far as Mr. Tabachnick knows, never before in this country has one unelected person run a school board for close to two years. Mr. Windsor will be at the helm of Halifax regional school board until the next municipal elections, next October.

In other cases, Mr. Tabachnick said, a trustee has taken over school boards for a short amount of time.

“Then the trustee leaves when things are back in order,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be a necessity to wait another 10 months for an election.”

Mr. Tabachnick added it’s “most distressing” that the city’s school board is considering ending its involvement with the Nova Scotia School Boards Association.

“That’s not the mandate that the gentleman has,” he said of Mr. Windsor, who is reviewing the board’s association membership, for which it pays $177,000. He’ll make his decision on the matter at tonight’s school board meeting in downtown Dartmouth.

“He’s got an administrative job to do, but he can’t presume to be doing the political job — that’s a problem,” Mr. Tabachnick said.

Carole Olsen, superintendent of the Halifax board, gave Mr. Windsor a rave review Tuesday.

“He has understood very clearly that being a one-person board, he needs to reach out to the community in many, many ways,” Ms. Olsen said.

And he’s doing exactly that, she said, through public consultations and meetings with school advisory councils, administrators and other groups such as African-Nova Scotians.

“He has reached out to our communities in a very real and meaningful way,” Ms. Olsen said. “I think we have a very good handle on what the public is thinking about on various issues.”

“I like our concept of public submissions,” she said of the board’s new approach. “Many of those practices would be good practices whether we have an elected board or an appointed board.”

The superintendent works with whatever school board the minister puts in place — whether it’s elected or unelected, 13 members or one member.

“The last year has gone extremely well,” she said.

And it doesn’t sound like Mr. Windsor’s job is in jeopardy, either.

His boss, Ms. Casey, says, “Howard Windsor has done great work for students of Halifax regional school board over the past year.”

“I am more than satisfied with his work to date and I look forward to that continuing until next October, when Halifax will again have an elected school board,” she wrote Tuesday in an e-mail to The Chronicle Herald.

Still, Mr. Windsor is sometimes scrutinized and often criticized. And so is the education minister for appointing him.

Michael Corbett, an education professor at Acadia University, said “it remains an odd situation that the minister has chosen to allow a single individual to basically hold court.”

“I wonder: is there an agenda afoot? Is this government attempting in some ways to disband school boards?” he said Tuesday. “I think it’s fundamentally undemocratic and really problematic.”

Six ousted school board members continue the fight for their jobs and for a more democratic process. Last month, they appealed a Nova Scotia Supreme Court decision that upheld Ms. Casey’s decision to disband the board.


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