Update: Surrey and Delta school boards blast Bill 11

Education minister Peter Fassbender responds to concerns that proposed legislation erodes elected trustees' autonomy.

Surrey school Trustee Terry Allen and the chair of Delta's Board of Education

Surrey and Delta school trustees are demanding the Ministry of Education rescind proposed provincial legislation they say will override their right to govern democratically.

Bill 11, the Education Statutes Amendment Act, was introduced by the Ministry of Education last month. While the proposed law includes changes to teacher professional development that proved controversial when introduced, there are other portions that directly affect B.C. boards of education.

For example, the bill would change the School Act to broaden the Minister of Education’s authority over school district matters, allowing him to administer directives if he believes a board has not done its job or if he deems it in the public’s interest to step in.

“The board believes it erodes what we do,” said Surrey Trustee Terry Allen, noting the bill would allow the province to override the right of elected B.C. trustees to make autonomous decisions.

The proposed legislation also includes provisions relating to shared services in the education sector, allowing the minister to designate specific service providers to boards, whether they deem them cost-effective or not.

If passed, Bill 11 would also amend the school act so that a board’s management of schools and property would be “subject to the orders” of the minister.

“It’s absolutely diabolical … it’s really problematic,” Allen said. “At the end of the day, if we don’t agree…  someone will come in and override our decisions and tell us what to do.”

An April 22 letter to Education Minister Peter Fassbender from the Delta Board of Education also stresses that trustees have been democratically elected to “safeguard the resources” of the district on behalf of constituents.

“We must therefore speak against any legislation that would alter this mandate by placing an unelected Special Advisor, who is not accountable to our community, in front of our Trustees’ ability to serve our community,” wrote Laura Dixon, chair of Delta’s board.

Surrey trustees were endorsed a motion Thursday evening demanding the province immediately quash the proposed legislation and allow for some “productive dialogue” with boards of education, which had no warning Bill 11 was in the works.

The surprise, said Allen, was made worse by the fact it came just months after trustees signed a co-governance agreement with the province.

“There’s no co-governance between the Surrey Board of Education and the Ministry of Education,” said Allen. “It’s simply a dictatorship.”

Dixon was also disappointed no consultation on Bill 11 took place, as per the co-governance MOU (memorandum of understanding). She told Fassbender re-drawing the legislation in consultation with trustees would not only respect the mandates given by voters, but give communities local representation to meet student needs.

The B.C. School Trustees Association passed a motion at its AGM last weekend also asking that the sections of Bill 11 that override the authority of local education boards be withdrawn.

Fassbender did not return calls, but emailed a statement to The Leader Thursday afternoon saying the 60 B.C. school districts deliver similar services and there are “realistic opportunities” reduce overhead through shared services.

He said the amendments in Bill 11 make it clear school boards will have authority to make agreements with other boards or other public sector groups and that they’ll continue to have “considerable autonomy” over how they achieve savings.

“However, to maximize the benefits for the entire sector, we also want to make it clear that all districts need to participate in finding efficiencies and – if and where a clear business case shows it makes sense – the Minister of Education has the ultimate authority to require a board to participate in a specific supply arrangement,” Fassbender said.

He added the province will continue to work closely with districts as they develop “workable and realistic strategies” to implement shared services.