Bill 11, the Education Statutes Amendment Act, was passed in the legislature last month, leaving school boards unsure as to what next year will look like and worried they won’t have much say.
“Trustees are pretty concerned that it’s really the first step toward taking away local school boards, period, as just happened in Quebec,” said School District No. 46 (SD46) board chair Betty Baxter this week.
The bill, which was praised by government as a way to reduce overhead costs and create a framework for teacher professional development, has been chastised by school district boards and teachers across the province.
Concerns cited range from a lack of student privacy due to a new “personal information section” in the bill that authorizes student information to be shared with other “public bodies,” to a lack of control by teachers over their own professional development.
The section that has school boards most concerned, however, is the power the bill gives to the education minister.
Under Bill 11, the minister can fire a school board if he believes it’s not complying with administrative directions handed down from the ministry. The minister can also issue administrative directions throughout the year on any matter and force boards to find savings through shared service agreements.
“None of us like it but we don’t have the authority to make any changes,” Baxter said, noting the only recourse is to “tell the minister we want the bill reopened because we don’t want the minister to have so much control over school boards.”
Baxter said trustees will discuss the issue again after the summer break during a B.C. School Trustee Association meeting, but she was unsure if anything would come of it.
“The ministry’s position, when they come back to placate us, they say ‘this is just the first step; you’ll have all kinds of input into the regulation,’ but we don’t know the timeline of the regulation, we don’t know what ‘input’ means … we don’t know anything,” Baxter said.
She isn’t sure if the new bill will need to be complied with come September and said there are many other concerns with the bill’s implementation that haven’t been dealt with yet.
“That’s been, unfortunately, kind of the modus operandi for this ministry. We get the surprises and then we do a big push back, but then nothing really changes. There are countless examples,” Baxter said.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender stood by Bill 11 this week, saying it would “put a much stronger focus on what matters most – student outcomes.”
He also said the power of the minister to issue administrative directives to boards isn’t new.
“It’s been in place for many years and is carried over from the existing legislation, with some changes for consistency with the other ‘accountability’ amendments in the bill,” Fassbender said.
He pledged to work closely with school districts “as they evaluate and develop workable and realistic strategies to implement shared services” in the future, which is one aim of Bill 11.
The shared services are meant to cut costs for school districts. Fassbender said he expects that boards will still have “considerable autonomy over how they achieve savings in their district through shared services initiatives.”
He noted that consultation with school districts did take place before Bill 11 was passed and that his government is now “committed to Bill 11.”
“This government is committed to transforming education and what it’s going to take to do that,” he added.