Frank Klees

Frankly Speaking

Who's In Charge At The School Board ?

March 29, 2011

You are a newly elected school board trustee. A group of parents want to meet with you to discuss a controversial issue. This is why you wanted to be a trustee - to help resolve issues and be a voice for parents and students and ensure that the more than $1.25 billion school board budget is properly managed. Before you can schedule the meeting, you're told that you can't meet in private with parents and that if there are to be any meetings, school board staff have to be present. How would you react ?

Not possible, you say. After all, what does a school board trustee do, if not represent the people who elected them? Good question and it's precisely that question that I took up with the Minister of Education this past week.

My question to the Minister as recorded by Hansard:

"Trustees elected to the York Region District School Board have been told that it's inappropriate for them to meet in private with parents who want to discuss issues related to school board policy. Parents, and the trustees elected to represent them want to know whether this directive has come from the minister. If so, how can the minister so blatantly undermine the role of an elected trustee?"

The Minister's response had nothing to do with my question, so I tried again:

“These are parents from York Region who simply want to meet with their trustees to talk about public school board issues. The Director of Education has in fact told trustees that they are not allowed to meet with parents in private to discuss these issues. They're being told that a staff member must attend every meeting that trustees have with parents. I would like to know.... since when is it appropriate for trustees, duly elected, not to be allowed by the Director of Education to meet with parents in private? Will the minister stand in her place and tell us whether she believes it is appropriate and , if so, will she send a directive to this Director and every other Director who would undermine the role of trustees in this province ?"

The Minister's response:

“I very much appreciate the question. It is an important one. Certainly, trustees are accountable to the people who have elected them. They are not accountable to the school board administration when it comes to dealing with the people who elected them. I would say that trustees do have a responsibility to the people who elected them; that there is nothing in the Education Act that would say that a trustee should not meet with their constituents. That is very clear. Nothing has changed with this government. In fact, we believe that locally-elected boards are accountable to their communities and the best way to do that is to meet with the people who elected them."

Now we were making progress.  The minister confirmed what I had told the trustee who brought this issue to my attention. Not only CAN trustees meet with parents in private, but they have a RESPONSIBILITY to be responsive to the people who elected them to oversee the administration of education in their community.

Unelected Staff In Control

Good for this trustee for coming forward with his concerns. Hopefully, the exposure of this overt attempt to undermine the role of elected trustees, has clarified who is accountable to whom. And hopefully, it will embolden our trustees to assume their legislated authority to represent the parents who elected them and to hold the Director of Education and his administration accountable for their actions.

My observation has been that all too often, trustees have been expected to simply rubber stamp decisions made by the administration. It's time that they took back control of the decision-making for which they were elected. 

As always, I welcome your comments and advice concerning this or any other issue by contacting me through my website at www.frank-klees.on.ca or by calling me at 905 750 0019.

See also Press Release  MPP: Allow Trustees To Do Their Job