There has been a lot of discussion over the last several years about the role of School Board Trustees, and whether they help make the schools that they govern better or worse. As with all democratic institutions, elected School Boards are imperfect, their quality depending in large part on who the voters elect. On balance, it seems that:
- Elected Trustees usually lead to higher quality schools when compared to the other governance structures that have been proposed
- Concerns raised about the quality of elected Trustees apply equally to every other level of elected representation
- Confusion about the legislated responsibilities of Trustees (including among Trustees and school board managers) leads to unnecessary conflicts that damage the quality of our schools and the reputation of School Boards.
- Municipal Councils and Provincial Governments regularly intrude on the proper jurisdiction of School Boards and that these intrusions hurt our schools.
[Failures of governance exist in every type of organization, including in some large private corporations that recruit and appoint highly qualified and well-paid people to sit on their boards:
- Volkswagen’s board oversaw fake emission testing,
- Enron’s and Nortel’s boards allowed fraudulent accounting practices,
- Bre-X’s board were duped into accepting bogus mining assays as legitimate.
- Most major US banks had board members who either were unaware of, or approved of, shady business practices that led to a world-wide recession.
- Facebook’s board members apparently paid no attention to Russian use of their services to illegally interfere in US elections, or to foresee that their policies have led to a loss of public and investor trust in their company.
- Apple’s board ousts founder Steve Jobs, hiring a new CEO who proceeds to bring the company to near bankruptcy.]
In Canada, the duties and powers of Trustees are dictated by Provincial legislation. The legislation in each province gives very different powers to School Boards and Trustees. Some Boards have very little ability to oversee whether policies are being implemented in ways that support students (eg. Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland/Labrador) while in other provinces the legislation gives meaningful powers of oversight to School Boards (eg. Ontario, Alberta, and PEI). In many cases, even when the legislation permits, Boards/Councils do not exercise their full authority, leaving the oversight of the implementation of policies to the Director/Superintendent.
- Links to provincial legislation related to public schools
- In some Provinces, the Ombudsman’s office is responsible for reviewing the activities of School Boards. In these jurisdictions, who should you call when you have a concern about a school or the School Board?
- ed•vocāte‘s submission to the Quebec panel studying the future of school board governance detailing the benefits and challenges related to elected school boards.
- Some people want to impose term limits on Trustees – here’s an analysis of incumbency of MP, Ontario MPPs, Toronto City Councillors, and Ontario Public School Board Trustees that shows that Trustees “turn-over” more quickly than other elected representatives.
- The Toronto District School Board is often held up as an example of why we shouldn’t have elected Trustees. Go here to see links to detailed independent assessments of how TDSB Trustees have worked to ensure accountability.