Standing Committee on Public Accounts and Standing Committee on Social Policy
Committee Clerk, Room 1405
Whitney Block/Bureau 1405, Queen’s Park
Toronto ON, M7A 1A2
Fax: (416) 325-3505
Attention: Mr. Katch Koch
Clerk to the Standing Committee
Re: Bill 177 – The Student Achievement and School Board Governance Act
After considerable discussion and study, and viewing the legislative legal opinion commissioned from Sack, Glodblatt and Mitchell, Social Planning Toronto (SPT) would like to express its concerns over the Bill 177, the Student Achievement and School Board Governance Act, 2009. Bill 177 has the potential to have serious implications for Ontario’s existing educational system by granting unprecedented power to the Provincial Government that could undermine the responsibilities and roles of local school boards and their democratically elected trustees.
While SPT has noted a number of sections of Bill 177 that could prove problematic depending on legislative interpretation we would like to focus on three potential areas of concern:
1. Bill 177 sets out to clarify the roles of school board officials, yet this clarification results in the Provincial Government being granted the authority to “make regulations governing the roles, responsibilities, powers and duties of boards, directors of education and board members including chairs of the boards.” This statement could be interpreted by the Government as an authorization to adjust or alter the current structure of duties and responsibilities without proceeding through the usual legislative process.
2. Bill 177 sets legislative limits to the role of trustees. The Bill requires board members to “support the implementation of any board resolution after it is passed by the board”, restricting trustees from expressing any position contrary to that of the board. Trustees also are required to “refrain from interfering in the day to day management of the board by its officers and staff” and “management of the school”, limiting their ability to advocate and act on behalf the citizens they were elected to represent. Sack, Goldblatt and Mitchell indicated in its legal analysis of Bill 177 that these obligations could trigger a constitutional challenge as they appear to limit the freedom of expression of school board members contrary to section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Additionally, the Bill grants the Government the authority to set a code of conduct for board members without public debate, input or limitation. This effectively results in the one level of elected government holding another democratically elected body responsible for actions outside its mandate. This is the responsibility of the electorate – not elected officials.
3. The legislative changes to Bill 177 would require trustees to “maintain focus on student achievement and wellbeing” yet there are no specific targets or standards set, nor does this statement explain how trustees are meant to represent the communities they serve if their needs may run in contravention to that of a student. The Bill also sets restrictions around the boards of education. Under this legislation boards are required to promote and monitor ‘student achievement outcomes’ as they are set in provincial interest regulations, yet student outcomes are undefined in the Bill. If these undefined outcomes are not met what are the repercussions? In other papers recently published by the Government potential regulations could include intervention in school boards, up to supervision, if the board of education does not attain ‘adequate’ results on standardized tests (recognized as biased against ESL students and a very narrow measure of student achievement). Further, while it is a laudable task for the board to be responsible for student achievement and wellbeing, since the boards were stripped of their ability to levy taxes it is inappropriate for the Provincial Government to place the legal responsibility of providing effective and appropriate education on the school boards alone, especially as it removes school boards’ ability to employ debentures and debt to subsidize required programming.
Given the far reaching impact of Bill 177, which addresses student achievement, stewardship and governance, we call on the government to address the concerns highlighted here, to pass a Bill that better serves the needs of students and “a prosperous, caring and cohesive society”.
John Campey, Executive Director
Social Planning Toronto