School Board Trustees Should Be Seen But Not Heard

BC School Act: Board is a corporation
65
(3) Committees of trustees or individual trustees may not exercise the rights, duties and powers of the board.

As locally elected officials, are City Councillors expected to sit quietly for four years if they disagree with a direction of Council? No.

Yet it’s considered a violation of “ethics” if an elected Board of Education  Trustee  publicly disagrees with a majority vote of the Board SD61, before October 2022. SD61 Policy 8251 Trustee Code of Ethics: ” I will abide by majority decisions of the Board once they are made, but at the time I seek re-election to the Board I shall be free to repeat and support the minority opinion that I upheld when the decision was made.” So Trustees are not free to speak until October 2022? Or is “abiding by” different from speaking publicly on a minority position and explaining one’s reasoning? The SD61 Policy Advisory Committee is currently reviewing this Policy. https://www.sd61.bc.ca/…/policy-8251-trustees-code-of…/  

Ethics: “moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.”  Disagreeing with a majority decision isn’t immoral.

The School Trustees’ provincial body (BCSTA) developed a Learning Guide which was presented 2018 BCSTA AGM. It’s behind a password protected “Hub‘, which also holds many documents that seem as though they should be publicly available, as this body’s existence depends on public taxes that pay for Board membership costs  in the BCSTA. (The same situation exists in Alberta, and probably other provinces as well.)

Please note that certain items that were previously stored on the public website (BCSTA.org) have been moved to the HUB. This includes:

  • Committee and branch meeting dates
  • District policies
  • Expense forms and rates
  • Motion resources and tracking documents
  • Various minutes

The Learning Guide is provided to BCSTA member boards of education and their individual member trustees as a resource to support their work in all aspects of their roles, both formal and informal. It is not a prescribed curriculum, nor the sole source of information that boards or trustees should consider. The contents cover all aspects of the work of both boards and individual trustees. It provides a solid foundation of knowledge and skills on which successful governance, oversight and advocacy can be built.

The Trustee Learning Guide quietly  narrowed the parameters for public speech with no reference to any legal constraints, simply stating as truth  precepts that deserve challenge. Previously, guidance for Trustees’ public speech  was  that speaking  to media or anyone to explain  one’s  individual view and rationale for vote in opposition was fine but an individual Trustee  had to make it very clear the communication was as an individual, not on behalf of or representing  the Board.

But now, from the Learning Guide [A Professional Learning Guide for Trustees and Boards of Education. © Copyright 2018. British Columbia School Trustees Association. All Rights Reserved] :

  • What Do I Do If I’m Not the Board Spokesperson, But am Contacted for Comment? Redirect the caller to the appropriate spokesperson, in accordance with the board’s communications protocol. When declining an interview, always be gracious about their having brought the request to you. The reporter didn’t have to bring their questions to you; they chose to because in the past they’ve been able to trust you to provide insightful answers to their questions quickly and efficiently. Thank them for thinking of you, but immediately in the conversation redirect them to the spokesperson.
  • If I Disagree with a Board Decision, Should I Say So in Public? As an individual trustee, you have an opportunity to make your views known on each and every matter that comes before the board. Once that opportunity has played itself out, and the board has made its decision, you should ordinarily restrict yourself to one of three courses of action:
    • Acknowledge that the decision reflects the opinion of the majority of the board and actively support it
    • Work through procedural channels to change that decision, or
    • Remain silent.

“Ordinarily”?

The Learning Guide also touches on the individual Trustee’s responsibilities:

The job description of the board sets out the responsibilities that a trustee, as a member of the collective board, is required to undertake. The following further clarifies the responsibilities of the individual trustee as a board member:

  • Carry out their responsibilities in a manner that assists the board in fulfilling its duties under the School Act, and under related regulations and guidelines
  • Attend and participate in meetings of the board, including meetings of board committees of which they are a member
  • Consult with parents, students and supporters of the board on the board’s multi-year plan
  • Bring concerns of parents, students and supporters of the board to the attention of the superintendent or, when appropriate, the board directly
  • Uphold the implementation of any board resolution after it is passed by the board
  • Entrust the day-to-day management of the district to its staff through the superintendent
  • Maintain focus on student achievement and well-being
  • Comply with the board’s code of conduct (formal or informal).

“Informal” code of conduct? Is that the same as peer pressure? What is it?

Courts have stated elected representatives can form views and opinions and declare themselves on issues of public interest. They have gone so far as to say:
“Elected officials are and should be entitled to maintain and forcefully to express their views without fear of disqualification or unwarranted interference by the courts.”

“Trustees engage their communities in building and maintaining a school system that reflects local priorities, values and expectations. School trustees listen to their communities, guide the work of their school district and set plans, policies and the annual budget. Reflecting the strength of local representation, boards report back to their communities on how students are doing. Boards are directly accountable to the people they serve.” 

But owe loyalty  to the Corporation, not the electors.

Then there’s the fiduciary relationship and requirements flowing from that.

An interesting environment.

 

About Diane McNally