November 22, 2010
SHEILA DABU NONATO
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

TORONTO — Critics are predicting a provincial bill on student achievement and school board governance will change the face of Ontario's school boards when newly elected trustees take office in December.

Rather than leave it to school boards to act in the best interest of students, Bill 177 legislates boards to "promote student achievement and well-being" and "ensure the effectiveness of the board's resources."

Trustees are also legally bound to "entrust the day-to-day management of the board to its staff through the board's director of education."

The legislation was passed last year amid scandals that saw the ministry of education assume control of the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Catholic education blogger John Borst says the bill is part of a trend to diminish school boards' powers. These changes may, "in the long run, even further centralize control at Queen's Park," said the seven-year Dryden, Ont., Catholic school trustee and former director of education.

Citing the example of the provincial takeover of the TCDSB, Borst said the government was "usurping the role of the electorate and their ability to change a board."

"One day, we may not have trustees. That seems to have been set in motion," he argued.

The Toronto board was taken over by the province after an expense scandal and the board's failure to balance its budget.

The Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association sees the new legislation as positive.

Trustees will be "held accountable for student achievement," said OCSTA vice-president Marino Gazzolo, adding there is no challenge to trustee powers in the bill.

NDP education critic Rosario Marchese objected to the bill before it was passed.

APPEARING TOUGH

A former Catholic trustee, Marchese said there has always been a balance of authority between the education ministry and trustees. "Bill 177 is a threat to that balance and to the rights of parents," he said.

Marchese wrote that the McGuinty government wanted to "appear tough" in responding to spending irregularities at the Toronto Catholic board which was taken over by the province in 2008.

On enforcing the effective use of resources given to boards, Marchese wrote this implies "trustees have not been using resources wisely" and that these resources have been adequate.

In fact, local school boards have long dealt with inadequate provincial funding, he said.

Paul Whitehead, a 30-year Catholic school trustee in London, Ont., supports the bill.

It's a "serious enhancement" to trustee's responsibilities to have a "legislated responsibility for student's success," he said.