In last Thursday’s paper, the B.C. Views column asked an uncomfortable question: are school boards obsolete as political bodies?
The argument went that over the decades, B.C. governments have stripped various powers of regulation away from school boards (such as taxation and labour bargaining) while unions may have exerted increasing influence over some trustees’ platforms and priorities.
Perhaps centralization of some of these things in Victoria is not all bad at the local level. After all, it does alleviate school trustees from the harsh scrutiny those issues can (rightly) incite.
Call me an idealist, but from my experience sitting in on meetings in our local district, it’s not as if every school board is pushing a shady agenda.
“There are still independent, community-minded trustees,” the writer of the previous column concedes, and that’s where I think he’s right.
I don’t know about every school board in the province, but I find neither “union beefs” nor “grandstanding” to be the central themes of public school board meetings in Merritt.
Board members of SD58 visit schools and parent advisory council meetings and keep in touch with the community. They are the liaisons between the district’s administration and the students and parents.
A school community doesn’t capture everybody in any given town, of course, but schools in themselves are microcosms that make up important communities within the wider community.
Besides, school boards still have plenty of responsibilities.
For one, the local district manages a budget of upwards of $20 million.
Certainly, with such a sizeable chunk of the public coffers, it’s of some benefit to have a group of people who live and work in the area elected by fellow community members to look after how that’s spent.
That’s a lot of taxpayer money, and a budget taxpayers can be assured won’t be overspent as it is illegal for school districts to run a deficit — a lesson that the Cowichan board mentioned in the column last week learned the hard way when they submitted a budget to the province based on what they want/need, not based on the money they know they can’t overspend.
A school board’s impact on student life and education doesn’t get much more direct than approving courses.
Sure, courses must align with a larger provincial curriculum, but school boards can work with schools to look at offering different and even region-specific courses. In SD58, one such course came up at a board meeting last year: Heartbeat of the Nicola Valley, which teachers First Nations drumming at MSS.
As with all topics of politics, there’s not just one way to look at the work of elected officials, and this column is not an attempt to capture all of the successes or failures of the local school board.
It’s simply to state my opinion as a person who’s been to meetings and witnessed the trustees at work: that the school board for Nicola-Similkameen still does plenty of important work.