Bill could limit Catholic school trustees' powers

  • September 25, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO  - The Ontario government’s proposed bill on student accountability would diminish the powers of democratically elected school trustees, says the president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association.

Paula Peroni told The Catholic Register that if passed in the Ontario legislature, Bill 177 would increase the provincial government’s control over school boards.

The government introduced Bill 177 on student achievement and effective stewardship of resources on May 7. It is up for second reading in the Ontario legislature this fall.

Peroni said the association supports the bill’s focus on student achievement, one already shared by Catholic boards, and recognizes that it clarifies the role of trustees. But she said it has concerns that it gives discretionary power to the government to make changes to trustees’ roles and job descriptions at any time.

“We don’t believe this power needs to lie in the hands of cabinet,” Peroni said. “We are publicly elected officials just as our municipal councils are and MPPs, and the same respect should be granted.”

Bill 177 proposes changes to Ontario’s Education Act and calls upon publicly funded school boards to promote student achievement and outcomes as well as “ensure effective stewardship of the board’s resources.”

The bill’s section 16 also says school boards shall “deliver effective and appropriate education programs to its pupils” and develop and maintain policies which encourage students to pursue their educational goals. It adds that boards shall monitor the performance of its director of education or the supervisory officer. Boards are also required to develop multi-year plans aimed at achieving these goals.

Peroni said the trustees’ association has concerns about the section stating the education minister may establish a code of conduct for school boards which would be enforced by sanctions, including censure, barring a trustee from meetings or reducing his or her honorarium. Peroni said the majority of Catholic boards already have a code of conduct.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board is currently under provincial supervision since a trustee spending scandal surfaced last year.

NDP MP and former Catholic trustee Rosario Marchese said Bill 177 would unfairly punish other boards for the bad behaviour of a few.

“The McGuinty government wants to appear tough in response to the spending irregularities which occurred at the Toronto Catholic District School Board,” Marchese wrote in an open letter to Ontario trustees in August.

“The government is using the actions of one group of trustees as an excuse to do major surgery on Ontario school boards. Unfortunately, they have decided to perform that surgery with a chainsaw rather than a scalpel,” Marchese said.

Marchese said the the bill would act as a “muzzle” on trustees and their decision-making powers.

“If trustees lose their power, parents lose their voice,” he said.

Education ministry spokesperson Patricia MacNeil told The Catholic Register that nothing in the proposed bill says the government will intervene and exert more control over trustees. The bill comes on the heels of an April government report on school board governance, MacNeil said, and not in response to the takeover of the Toronto Catholic board.

Bill 177 also closes the gaps in student achievement and ties up loose ends from the decade-old amalgamation of school boards which has never been addressed by a specific education bill, MacNeil said.

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