The Prince George School District board of trustees blasted B.C. Minister of Education Shirley Bond, Tuesday, over what they see as a major blow to their autonomy as a locally-elected board.
The controversy is over Bill 20, currently in committee prior to third reading in the Legislature, which would introduce numerous changes to the school system including the appointment of three “achievement superintendents.” The superintendents would be able to hear appeals and overrule decisions made at the board level.
“Minister Bond, the former chair of this board, can call it anything she wants. But the reality is she has… put in place bureaucrats that overrule the authority of this board,” board vice-chairwoman Lois Boone said. “I don’t care how Shirley sugar coats it and says it’s about student achievement the same could be done without undermining the authority of the boards. ”
Boone said the bill could result in less people running for trustee positions.
“Why run for trustee?” she said. “What would be the point if an unelected person in Victoria can overrule any decision you make?”
Bill 20 would amend the School Act to give the superintendents of achievement the authority to, “…on his or her own initiative or at the request of a person under subsection (1), suspend the decision [of a board] for the period and on the conditions the superintendent of achievement considers to be appropriate.”
If passed, any decision or reconsideration made by the board could be appealed to the superintendents of achievement. The superintendent would then have the authority to dismiss the appeal or appoint a mediator or adjudicator to resolve the issue.
The decision of a superintendent of achievement or an adjudicator appointed by one would be, “binding and final,” under Bill 20. On April 22, the B.C. School Trustees’ Association overwhelmingly passed a motion opposing Bill 20, Ricard said. That motion was brought forward by local trustee and former chairman Bill Christie. On Monday, chairman Lyn Hall and superintendent Brian Pepper, along with chairs and superintendents of all the other school districts in B.C. met with Bond on the issue.
“It turned out to be a bit of workshop process,” Hall said. “We gave a lot of input to ministry staff. [But] given the fact that Bill 20 is on the floor and will likely be passed within the week, I don’t know if we’ll have an impact even on regulations. It was closing the barn door after the horse left.”
Bond said the superintendents of achievement will not impact the day-to-day operations of school boards.
“The role of superintendents of achievement is to work alongside school boards,” Bond said. “A superintendent of achievement might review a decision under very specific circumstances.”
Bond said her ministry held the meeting, Monday, to engage school boards in developing the regulations which will determine what those circumstances are.
Parents across the province have said the school board system can be intimidating and, “parents might not feel they have had due process,” she added. Superintendents of achievement will hear appeals by parents who feel they, “haven’t been treated fairly,” by the school board, Bond said.
This appeal process is being introduced for locally-elected school boards but not for local city councils because students futures are on the line because of these decisions, Bond explained.
“In the vast majority of cases these decisions are made correctly,” Bond said. “[But] there are 11,000 children in this province who don’t graduate every year. That is the heart of Bill 20. We have to be responsible to serve those 11,000 kids. You can’t keep doing things the same way and hope things get better.”
Bond said she understands school boards are uncomfortable with change, but many of the changes in Bill 20 are ones the boards asked for.
“This is a bill that includes significant things that school boards asked for, including the ability to charge fees. I’m a little confused as to how school boards are opposing this,” she said. “I’ve been visiting school districts individually for over a year and been very candid about what needs to be done.”