Are local school boards really necessary?

Here is an interesting article by Eastern New Mexico academic Michael Shaughnessy. Although it is posted in Education News, a U.S. aggregator, it is relevant information for Education Departments in all Canadian provinces and territories who have local school boards and elected trustees. 

The piece starts:

The topic of education governance is becoming a major strand of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s work. That’s because we see so many promising reforms crash upon its shores. Want to equalize funding? Expand school choice? Encourage online learning? Our current governance system—and especially our tradition of “local control”—makes all of this very difficult. We are launching a new three-year initiative, in partnership with the Center for American Progress, to put the issue of governance in the center of the education reform conversation. This panel was one of our first efforts on that front.”

Commentary: I have not done research lately on all ten Canadian provinces and territorities to learn which jurisdictions no longer have the school board structure, apart from New Brunswick, who did away with local school boards in 1996.

However, I can certainly see the value of doing so, quite apart from the funding it would save. In my opinion, the problem is political. Trustees tend to get too close to both senior board administration and teachers’ unions officials. As a result, particulary in small communities where trustees may be negotiating with relatives, it is very hard for them to make the kind of accountable decisions their voters expect. Of course, the argument can be made that without trustees the public has no say at all. Well, actually they do — through their provincial or territorial elected members of parliament.

4 thoughts on “Are local school boards really necessary?

  1. In Alberta, there are local school boards, at least one per district. There’s the ‘public’ board (usually historically Protestant but now with no religious affiliation) and the ‘alternate’ board (usually RC). However, you can also have Francophone boards in some areas. In at least one jurisdiction (Morinville area), the only board is RC, and some parents are pushing to get a non-denominational board as well.

    Supposedly local is always better, but the Calgary Public board is seriously under fire for planning to cut front-line staff even as they are moving into fancy new quarters (including a batch of vacant offices for future trustees).

    I’ve heard from family in BC that there are problems there as well. People no longer wish to run for the school board as they are harrassed at home by irate parents, so the level of competence on the board is not that great, and the board is snowed by the district admin staff, with the result that admin gets its own way too often. In fact, even in larger centres, there is concern that district administration is top-heavy and eating up too much of the budget.


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