There has been a fair bit of discussion about the role and relevancy of education trustees in Ontario lately.  There are many questions, if not confusion, about their role and purpose.  The topic can get quite complex and it is not an easy discussion.  I suspect there is something unique about the culture of every single board of trustees that is in place at each of Ontario’s 72 school boards.  I don’t know the answers regarding what they should be doing, or if they should exist or not.  How can an unbiased discussion about alternatives occur? How can the discussion be kept to be about the role, and not personalities and politics?

One argument I often read and hear in favour of keeping trustees is that they are the “voice” of parents and the community — that an important link or “level” would be lost without them.  I recently read an article that suggested that the newly established ombudsman oversight of school boards may not be necessary because trustess are part of the support network for parents.  There is a guidebook about the elected role, as well as a new governance guide which can be accessed from the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association’s website here.  These guides do mention school councils and parent involvement committees in regards to how a trustee can be connected to their communities — how it is done can vary.  From the 2014 Governance Guide, Ch. 4, The Role of School Board Trustees, under “Political Accountability” (p. 43):

Individual trustees interpret “representing their community” in different ways. Some community members expect a trustee to be very active, others do not. Because Ontario’s communities are so diverse, the job of school trustee varies widely. What all trustees do have in common is serving the community as elected representatives while focusing on the primary task of acting as members of a board that makes policy decisions, oversees curriculum and program delivery and fulfils its responsibilities as an employer.”

Chapter 11 is titled and covers, “Working with School Council, Parent Involvement Committees, and Communities”.  There is one specific section with suggestions as to how they “can” do so (I am uncertain if they must):

How Trustees Can Support and Promote the Parent and Community Voice

Trustees can support the work of school councils and parent involvement committees by:

  • promoting the value of school councils and PICs to the community;
  • facilitating communication among school councils within the trustee’s area;
  • helping to establish contacts between councils and their communities and between councils and the board’s PIC;
  • providing a communication link among school councils, the PIC and the board;
  • ensuring that the board establishes policies for school councils, in consultation with school councils;
  • ensuring that school councils are able to provide input into the development of board policies related to the areas listed in Ontario Regulation 612/00;
  • ensuring the board reports back to school councils or the PIC on the actions taken by the board in response to advice provided by school councils or the PIC (Note: Boards are not bound by school council or PIC recommendations, but they are required to report back on actions taken or not taken.);
  • evaluating the board’s method of reporting back to school councils;
  • making school councils and the PIC aware of relevant board policies;
  • ensuring that all those who are involved with school councils and the PIC work within the provisions of the regulations and any applicable board policies; and
  • promoting and encouraging collaborative relationships among the board, school councils, the PIC, and the broader school community.

It is a long list, but there is a focus on communication and consultation.  While there is a requirement for one trustee to be a member on the school board level PIC, the role they are to have isn’t clearing specified in the PIC regulations.  They cannot be members on a school council and their role and expected relationship with these school level committees seems less specified.  Also, in the list above, one bullet suggests that they can ensure that all those involved with school councils and the PIC work “within the provisions of the regulations and any applicable board policies“.  Do they?  Should they?  Is it okay if they don’t, or only connect with those committees that do, or are able to do?  A few of my previous posts have highlighted the conversations and debates about the roles of school councils and what they should be doing.  If these committees are the suggested avenue for trustees to represent parent voice and facilitate communication, how should they be supported to also be an effective representation of parents? Are there other avenues for trustees to do this effectively and broadly?

Are there some actions on this list that are more effective in supporting “the work” of school councils and PICs than others? Is the list fair? Honest answers might be difficult, but those are my questions in regards to one aspect of the role.

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