School Board Election Looms, Public Yawns.

Republished from Halifaxpolitics.ca

The school board elections are a short two weeks away.  In Halifax, the new, smaller Board means fewer seats, but the last few years of controversy seems to mean more interest and more candidates.  Election signs and pamphlets abound.

It has been some time since I have written about education.  Call it a combination of burn out on the issue, and an interest in returning to anonymity.  Like dozens of parents, I spent hundreds of hours lobbying, fighting and threatening to save our schools, starting with my kid’s school, then spreading to peninsula schools, and then spreading to reforming the school capital planning system. The fight was over three years long.

In the end the “Imagine Our Schools” process, put forward in part because of our demands, produced almost no serious change from past plans.  Lots of citizen’s energy, lots of hope, vacuumed up into a vortex of ambiguity and paternalistic policies determined from above.

Without a doubt, the whole thing was a disappointment, and it continues to damage our communities around the proposed closures of an almost full school, St Mary’s.

A lot of people have asked why I didn’t run for School Board.   With respect to the many decent, hardworking people who are running, I have a simple answer.

It won’t make any difference who is elected, as the Board serves little to no purpose.

Even before the changes the Minister has proposed to the Education Act, the Boards were ineffective, neutered, and without purpose.

Boards in Nova Scotia do not sign contracts with their own employees, the Province does that.  Boards in Nova Scotia do not build schools, or even maintain them for projects over $200,000, as the Province does that.  The curriculum is not developed by the Boards, the Province does that.  The revenue is not determined by taxation power at the Board level, the Province and the municipalities do that.

Halifax Regional School Board does not control the revenue, or the overwhelming majority of the expenses of the Board.  The only way to address staffing costs is to cut staff.

Even worse, the boards are deeply underfunded.  Compared to Waterloo, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Victoria, the Halifax board receives 35% less funding per student.  This works out to over $100 million dollars in underfunding.

On top of all this, the proposed change to the act would effectively end the role of Board members as representatives of the public, in the way councilors and MLAs represent their constituencies.
Indeed, the Province based its defense of firing the HRSB in part on the “inappropriate” meeting between Lynn MacGregor and her constituents on the issue of closing schools.

By changing the Act, the boards will be transformed into advisory panels to the Minister, where only the means of selection is public.  Once elected,  a board member will be there to tow the party line, or be fired.

So for me, it was an easy decision not to run. All that board members are elected to do is take the heat from the angry public for decisions about funding, programming and capital that are actually made by the Department, Minister and Cabinet.

Sadly, until we have a comprehensive reform of funding and governance, we can all expect more of the same, no matter who is elected.

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