Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What Do These Schmucks Do? - School Board Trustee Edition

(Re-posted, with some edits, from October 2007)

With thanks to the Albeta School Boards Association, below is an overview of exactly what a "school board trustee" DOES - handy information, when deciding whom you should elect to the job.

All voters are asked at the polling station for which board they wish to elect a trustee - public or catholic. Make sure to get this question right - your taxes go to whichever board you choose, so make sure you have a say in who gets to spend them!

(ASBA text begins now)

What do school trustees do?

Alberta school boards help shape the future of local communities by governing the education of young people. The provincial government, through the minister of learning grants school boards the independent authority to make decisions regarding the direction and quality of local public education. Accountability to the public is entrenched through the election of local school board trustees every three years. The school board election is October 18, 2010.

School board responsibilities

It’s up to school boards to ensure all children in the community receive a quality education. Specific school board responsibilities include:
  • Communicating, informing and involving parents, staff, and the community-at-large in school board decisions and activities.
  • Adopting an annual budget that achieves jurisdiction priorities.
  • Setting goals and priorities for the jurisdiction that achieve provincial education standards, meet the needs of students and reflect the community’s wishes.
  • Making and enforcing policies that set out standards and expectations regarding the actions of administration, teachers, and students.
  • Lobbying the municipal and provincial governments on education issues of importance to the jurisdiction.
  • Adjudicating policy or decision appeals.
  • Hiring and evaluating the superintendent.

The role of the trustees

A key responsibility for trustees is to stay in touch with community stakeholders so that they understand, and reflect in their decision-making, what all citizens value and want from their local public schools. It’s important to note that trustees do not represent any one school, neighbourhood or community. Rather, they make decisions based on the needs of the entire jurisdiction. As elected officials, trustees have these roles:

Communicators: Trustees ensure the community has a say in what children learn by communicating effectively with stakeholders and ensuring their concerns and wishes are heard.

Planners: Trustees develop plans to deal with student needs and to actively participate in the economic and social strength of local communities.

Policy makers: Trustees create policies to guide administration and staff. They also evaluate the impact of these policies and make adjustments where necessary.

Advocates: Trustees address and seek resolution of public education issues of importance to students, parents, and the community at large.

Educators: Trustees play a key role in developing tomorrow’s citizens because they have the ability to make independent decisions that impact the direction and quality of public education.

Adjudicators: Trustees hear and make judgements concerning local education decisions, procedures or policies that individuals, groups or the public feel are unfair or improper.

Lobbyists: Trustees communicate with the municipal and provincial levels of government to ensure those who influence funding and other resources hear the voice of the local community.

Legislators: Trustees can make decisions that have the status and impact of law -- for example, decisions governing and enforcing the conduct of students and staff.

Politicians: Trustees are elected every three years to govern the local public education system on behalf of the community. The democratic process ensures the public remains part of public education.
(ASBA text ends)
So...  tell me E.S., what does it take to be a good school trustee?
Thanks for asking. :)
To my mind, given the responsibilities outlined above, the following skills and qualities would be important qualifications in someone seeking this particular office:
Fiscal awareness - schools boards spend a LOT of money, but there's only so much that they receive from the provincial government, so they have to make tough budgeting decisions.  Being able to read & understand complicated financial imformation, then, would be useful.
Ability to listen - Trustees are the public access point to the school system.  Parents, teachers, AND students need to feel as though their trustee is actually listening to their concerns, even if they can't always provide the kind of result for which they're hoping.
Non-dogmatic approach - People in public life are just as entitled to their own political ideas as private citizens.  School trustees, though, need to be careful in that they have to show an ability to work with people who have radically different political sensibilities from their own. This IS, after all, the only job in this election where the provincial minister of education can fire you for not playing well with others.
Political Acumen - Trustees don't have to have years of experience in working with local politicians, but if they don't, they have to be fast learners.  A big part of the trustee job is to lobby civic and provincial politicians on behalf of their school district.  Knowing how to speak their language - and being able to learn the dance moves - is a huge asset.
Fairness - Conflict resolution is an important part of the trustee job description. Whether it be within the board itself, conflicts within the community or issues between teachers/students/parents (or any combination thereof), the trustee needs to be able to have every walk away satisfied and unbloodied.  The people who come out on the "losing end" of a decision will eventually forgive the trustee for making it, so long as there's a consistent fairness to that trustee's decisions (ask any parent about consistently fair conflict resolution in their own home - it helps).
Foresight - It's one thing to have to play with the cards you're dealt. It's another thing entirely to be thinking Euchre while the rest of the table is playing Go Fish.  Being able to understand population growth trends, suburban sprawl, transportation issues, and labour developments and think 3, 6, 9, or more years down the road is a HUGE asset in a school trustee.  Being able to understand what's happening to the demographics in this city, where people are moving to and where they're leaving from, who's taking their place, how that affects current schools and where to build the new ones - it's the difference between mowing the lawn and re-landscaping.  It pays to have someone around who can mow, but the landscaper can mow, and also plan for the future.  A vision of the future, unclouded by political dogma, is a major asset for this job.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I attended my first school board trustees forum last week and had my eyes opened! People, please take the time to learn about the candidates for school trustee.
In my opinion, this position gets ignored and voters arrive at the booth having no idea who the people are and arbitrarily choose; thinking that one is as good as the other. I must admit that I have done this in the past myself, and I am a teacher!
At the candidates forum, I realized what a disservice I had been doing. Of the NINE candidates running, there were only two whom I would feel comfortable representing public education. Two of the candidates had very bizarre personal agendas.
This may sound undemocratic, but if you don't spend the time learning who to vote for, you probably shouldn't vote. The thought of one these crazies getting on due to random chance scares the hell out of me. An uninformed vote is a dangerous vote!