Board challenges Bill 11

Gives education minister authority to require boards to participate in specific service delivery arrangements

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board is taking a leading role in opposing what it says is the province’s plans to undermine the authority of trustees.

Board members have been active in rallying their fellow trustees against new legislation they say gives the education ministry power to override school board decisions.

Bill 11 amends the School Act, giving boards the ability to enter into shared services agreements with other boards or public sector entities. But it also gives the education minister the authority to require boards to participate in specific service delivery arrangements.

The B.C. School Trustees Association held its annual general meeting in Vancouver on April 16-19, and motions from the board of School District 42 were supported unanimously.

“That BCSTA demand the government of B.C. immediately withdraw the sections of Bill 11 that override the authority of democratically elected Boards of Education,” begins the motion.

Local trustee Ken Clarkson, who is also a director on the provincial BCSTA board, noted that the local board’s original motion used the word “request,” but the AGM strengthened the wording to “demand” and added “immediately.”

“Trustees are really ticked off,” said Clarkson.

The local board authored five of the 31 motions brought to the AGM.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender has told school districts they will be given time to develop their own shared service plans before any changes are imposed by Victoria.

“Taxpayers also expect their dollars to be used wisely and that every available dollar is going to help children in the classroom. With 60 school districts, there are many opportunities for shared services. These amendments will give districts and the ministry additional tools to turn these opportunities into ongoing savings,” he said.

The AGM also passed a motion from the local board regarding the under-funding of education. It will see the trustees association investigate the financial needs of each school board, compared with the budgets they pass, to come up with a number that trustees say will show the total provincial shortfall.

This year, the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District is dealing with a budget shortfall of $1.7 million.

There were also two motions from local trustees pertaining to bargaining with CUPE and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, urging the BCSTA to take a more active role.

Clarkson said the BCSTA has been told by government that it will be more consultative, in accordance with a co-governance agreement the ministry signed, but it hasn’t on issues such as mandated administrative savings and implementing adult education fees.

Bill 11 was initially criticized for the changes it makes to the professional development of teachers.

The new bill will allow the BCTF and the education ministry to define professional development, Fassbender said.

“There is no legislated requirement for professional development, nor is there a definition of what the route to that might be and what some of those tools are,” Fassbender said. “That is why it is important that we work with the teaching profession to define that moving forward, and that’s what this bill allows us to do.”