Board of Education must be held to an explanation

The Troubling lack of transparency in principal demotions for which Mr. Robert Brown’s letter to the editor (May 16 edition) provides an illuminating background that is symptomatic of a problem afflicting all Canadian politics. The Board of Education’s reassurance that it has confidence in the superintendent of schools is both vacuous and irrelevant. If the board did not have confidence in the superintendent, the position would be vacant today.

Why did the board refer to the superintendent of schools in its letter of explanation? The superintendent is not responsible for the hiring or firing of principals. The School Act is very precise in assigning the responsibility for the appointment or dismissal of principals, vice principals or directors of instruction. That responsibility rests squarely with the board (sec. 21-22). The Act makes no reference at all to the superintendent of schools in this regard.

The board offered the demoted three individuals teaching positions as required pursuant to School Act sec. 21(1). The community and the parents directly affected by the board’s decisions are not questioning the board’s authority. What is at issue are the board’s reasons for its decisions.

Why were three principals in our schools dismissed? If these principals have crossed a line somehow or somewhere, what line was it? If something about their performance did not look, feel, or smell right, what was it? We should trust you because you have confidence in the superintendent of schools? How can we trust you when you don’t trust the people who elected you, when you ignore the people to whom you are accountable for the decisions you make?

The Ministry of Education does not need an elected board to provide education services in Terrace, no more than the Ministry of Transportation needs an elected board to take care of Highway 16. Board of Education members are not elected for their classroom teaching expertise, for their pedagogical credentials, for their administrative proficiency, or for their budgeting wizardry. Boards of Education members are ELECTED to be ACCOUNTABLE to their community for what goes on in our schools. That is their one and only raison d’être.

We do not elect a Board of Education to have confidence in the staff under its direction. What the community votes for is accountability, a window open to the education of our youth, not a conditional keyhole peek at paternalistic platitudes! We remember the residential school system, an education service provided by governments without elected community oversight. This was an education system that relied on one level of authority having confidence in the next level, all the way from the Prime Minister and the Pope down to the most remote classroom.

Elections are not what distinguish democracies from authoritarian regimes. Elections can be gerrymandered and reduced to beauty pageant-style contests at which point the accuracy of the ballot count is inconsequential. Political accountability – democracy’s underpinning – is in urgent need of life support at every level from the Board of Education to the House of Commons. The political leadership a society needs – if it cares to be governed democratically – is not of the Napoleonic take-charge kind!

If you, members of the Board of Education individually and as a whole, are not willing to account for the decisions you make, you have outlived your usefulness. There is but one action left for you to do: resign!

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