Friday, 25 November 2011

Where Do We Go From Here? part two: Two "Full-Time Trustee Equivalents" are Better Than One

Does anyone outside the Fisher Drive boardroom think that KPR administration is doing a decent job of managing our schools and tax dollars?

Any one?

KPR Board of Trustee meetings in 2011 have looked little different from the ARC meetings of the spring: a steady stream of educated citizens, including many community leaders, consume most of the meeting time presenting arguments against the administration’s poorly-conceived decisions, and receive virtually no response from the public’s representatives at the table.

Then everyone goes back to their day jobs for two weeks while KPR administrators continue to take home six-figure salaries at the public expense while blundering their way through the glass-and-cubicle world of Fisher Drive, mismanaging our schools by remote control.

How can $377 million worth of education spending every year be left under the guidance of a mere handful of individuals who appear utterly out of touch with both the school communities and the public, and who demonstrate little awareness of provincial policy or the ramifications of the administrative decisions they rubber stamp?

How can our public schools, which comprise one of the very foundations of our civil society, institutions which play a pre-eminent role in the day to day lives of almost every family, be left with virtually zero public governance?

The situation boggles the mind. And yet our Liberal government, the Trustees themselves, and school board administrators alike go about their business as if it made all the sense in the world.

Here’s a chart showing how the number of Trustees for any given Ontario public school board is determined, based on the number of citizens paying taxes to that Board. The number arrived at here can be adjusted according to the land-area of the jurisdiction, population density patterns, and other factors. In most cases, the possible adjustments make no difference. In the case of KPR, our only adjustment is the addition of a First Nations representative to our group of 10 for a total of 11. This chart is on page 30 of the 2010 Ministry of Education Trustee guide, which also explains how the distribution of the trustees is to be made through the jurisdiction.

1000s of taxpayers
taxpayers per trustee



Most boards were designed to fall in the middle of this range. The largest category in the chart was created strictly for the Toronto District School Board. Note the strange discrepancies the chart creates, whereby taxpayers in a Board in the upper range of one category have less representation than those in a Board whose population falls within the lower ranges of the next category up. 

KPR, serving about 230,000 public school supporters (out of a total population of about 300,000 in the area), has an operating budget almost twice the size of the Limestone Board, whose largest population center is Kingston. The Durham Board, whose largest city is Oshawa, has a taxpayer base and budget almost twice the size of KPR’s, yet all three boards are governed by roughly the same number of Trustees (between 9 and 11). Even the Ottawa-Carleton Board, one of the largest in the province, has only 12 Trustees.

There’s a complicated formula to determine how much money Trustees can be paid, but it ends up being only about $10,000 per year. Think of it this way: our entire Board of Trustees gets paid much less than the Director of Education does all by himself. In fact, the entire Board earns about as much as does one principal.

This means that our publically-elected governance over a $377 million budget funded by nearly a quarter of a million taxpayers amounts to about one person’s work-time per year.

Is it any wonder, then, that School Board administrators are permitted to carry on as if they were teenage boys taking a joyride behind the wheel of their parents’ high-power car?

With less than five years of experience at Fisher Drive between them, Hick and Mangold appear dizzy with their newfound power and oblivious to speed limits, warning signs, and basic rules of the road. Imagine one stepping on the gas, gunning the big $377 million engine as fast as he can into the night, while the other leans out the window from his passenger seat, eagerly anticipating his turn behind the wheel.

And where are their parents?

Our democratically-neglected Trustees sit impassively in the Boardroom when members of the community come to complain of the dangerous on-road antics of their charges. One says she’ll think about possibly talking it over with the rest of the elders. Maybe in a few weeks.

The sad truth is that our Boards of Trustees have been purposely set up not to provide democratic, community-based guidance over our schools, but rather to discourage it. They serve to shield both the local administration and the provincial government from accountability to the citizens who pay for and use the schools, and pay the salaries of the administrators themselves, the Trustees, Ministry officials, and legislators.

It's high time that our MPP Jeff Leal and the Liberal government stopped hiding behind this sham system. To address the democratic deficit around school boards by altering the chart above would cost almost nothing in the way of tax dollars. What rationale could there be for allowing such a wide discrepancy between taxpayers regarding their representation, whereby a supporter of the Limestone DSB shares her Trustee with about 15,000 others, but a supporter of KPR in Peterborough shares hers with about 30,000 others?  

Jeff Leal is reportedly in favour of increasing Peterborough’s representation at the Board of Trustees. But can we count on him to actually do anything to make this happen?

Let me propose Step Two:

Leal, Premier McGuinty, and the Minister of Education Laurel Broten should be aggressively lobbied to improve the formula by which Trustees are allocated across the province.

Leal and McGuinty shouldn't be allowed to hide behind
our democratically-neglected and ineffective Trustees

Maybe, if we all lobby really hard, by 2014 we might even get up to the equivalent of two full-time human brains governing our $377 million local school system.

Maybe then thousands of citizens wouldn’t be forced to expend endless amounts of their own energy trying to prevent two men with less than five years collective experience at Fisher Drive from racing to shut down a priceless 180-year-old school, leaving central Peterborough with no schools of any kind in return for its annual contribution of many millions of tax dollars.

1 comment:

  1. On Thursday, Nov. 24, the fight against this incomprehensible school closure decision entered a new phase. There is a new level of collective anger. And there is a new level of strategy. While we will continue to need the patient, respectful, and procedural people to keep doing what they have been doing so far, now we know we have to bump our game up a notch. More outreach, more pressure, and more assertiveness in facing down this bully administration. This is not about being resistant to change, as a TASSS supporter smugly said at the board meeting on Nov. 24. This is about standing up for the fundamental values that you point out in your informative post, Brent. This is about democracy in Peterborough. This is about our tax dollars and our students. Thanks Brent!

    Bill Templeman