New bill brings code of conduct for Ontario trustees

  • November 11, 2010
OCSTATORONTO - Critics are predicting a provincial bill on student achievement and school board governance will change the face of Ontario’s school boards when newly elected trustees take office in December.

Rather than leave it to school boards to always act in the best interest of students, as has been the case historically, Bill 177 legislates boards to “promote student achievement and well-being” and “ensure the effectiveness of the board’s resources.” Trustees are also legally bound to “entrust the day-to-day management of the board to its staff through the board’s director of education.”

The legislation was passed last year amid scandals that saw the ministry of education assume control of the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Catholic education blogger John Borst says the new education bill is part of a trend to diminish school boards’ powers. These changes may, “in the long run, even further centralize control at Queen’s Park,” said the seven-year Dryden, Ont., Catholic school trustee and former director of education.

It will affect trustee’s historical “fiduciary responsibility” of managing school boards, he said.

Citing the example of the provincial takeover of the TCDSB, Borst said the government was “usurping the role of the electorate and their ability to change a board.”

“One day, we may not have trustees. That seems to have been set in motion,” he argued.

The Toronto board was taken over by the province after an expense scandal and the board’s failure to balance its budget.

The Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association sees the new legislation as a positive development. Trustees will be “held accountable for student achievement,” said association vice-president Marino Gazzolo, adding that it’s not a challenge to trustee powers.

The impact on the board’s autonomy is minimal, he added, because many boards already have a code of conduct in place.

NDP education critic Rosario Marchese objected to the bill before it was passed. On his web site, he wrote an open letter to Ontario trustees called “Bill 177: The Beginning of the End for School Boards.”

A former Catholic school trustee, Marchese said there has always been a balance of authority between the education ministry and trustees.

“Bill 177 is a threat to that balance and to the rights of parents,” he said.

Marchese wrote that the McGuinty government wanted to “appear tough” in responding to spending irregularities at the Toronto Catholic board which was taken over by the province in 2008.

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

Marchese said the new bill will allow the provincial government to “make regulations governing the roles, responsibilities, powers and duties of boards, directors of education and board members, including chair of boards.”

“If I were still a trustee, I would be saying, ‘Well that just about covers it. What’s left? Why am I here? Who am I working for here, the parents and their children or the government?’ ” he said.

Furthermore, on enforcing the effective use of resources given to boards, Marchese wrote this implies “trustees have not been using resources wisely” and that these resources have been adequate.

“In fact, for years, trustees have been struggling to stretch inadequate education funding to meet the needs of their students and this is the thanks they get,” Marchese said.

“If trustees lose their power, parents lose their voice,” he said, adding that this makes the election of trustees “meaningless.”

Paul C. Whitehead, a 30-year Catholic school trustee in London, Ont., supports the bill.

He said it’s a “serious enhancement” to trustee’s responsibilities to have a “legislated responsibility for student’s success.”

“It’s positive in the sense that the government is saying we think trustees have an important role to play with respect to student achievement,” he said.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.