September 1, 2009

Response to the Provincial Interest Regulation Consultation Paper Bill 177 The Student Achievement and School Board Governance Act

Ms. Margot Trevelyan
Director , Labour Relations and Governance Branch
900 Bay Street

Mowat Block
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1L2

Dear Ms. Trevelyan:

At the outset, we would like to express our deep concerns about Bill 177, and the consultation process the government has adopted with regards to the Bill and the Provincial Interest Regulations.

The legislative changes under consideration are not minor, and if passed will substantially and negatively impact on local autonomy and democracy, and on the quality of public education in Ontario.

For these reason, we believe the government should withdraw Bill 177 and the regulations, and we call on the government to do so without further delay.

We are convinced that the substance of the Bill and regulations are the reason why the government has eschewed public hearings in favour of email consultations in the dead of summer.

Public hearings would have ensured the full public airing and discussion that we are certain would have generated very broad and vocal public opposition to the Bill and regulations.

What would have been revealed in public hearings is that the government is attempting to (1) make School Boards responsible for the declining quality of public education (2) redirect public attention from the Liberal government’s failure to deliver the needs-based funding formula promised in 2003 and again in 2007; a funding formula that would provide the adequate and stable funding School Boards need to provide universal quality public education in Ontario schools, and without which universal quality public education cannot be delivered in Ontario schools, and (3) erode local democracy and autonomy by forcing local School Boards and locally elected Trustees to become a transmission belt for the government-of-the-day’s austerity and privatization policies or face removal from office, supervision, and trusteeship for remaining accountable to local electors who have consistently opposed such policies and the governments that deliver them.

It will be surprising to many that the current Minister of Education has approved and is shepherding this Bill and regulations. Many in Toronto recall Minister Wynne opposing exactly these kind of policies when, as a Toronto Trustee, she along with a majority of the Board, fought the Harris government when it imposed supervision on the Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton public Boards after they refused to make the cuts to programs and staff demanded by the Tories, that so profoundly damaged public education in Ontario.

Yet this Liberal Bill and regulations are intended to do exactly the same thing as the Tories did in 2002-03.

Further, it is the same thing that the Liberals (and Tories before them) are doing in health care and hospitals. As budgets shrink relative to need, local hospital boards have come under increasing public pressure to deliver needed community services. In response local hospital boards have become increasing vocal and critical of provincial government funding policies. But instead of providing needed funding, the provincial government has enforced the Tories’ balanced budget legislation, and is now abolishing local hospital boards.

Bill 177 and the accompanying regulations also seek to silence local School Boards and Trustees that, in their majority have been very vocal and critical of previous and current provincial governments’ education funding policies.

Bill 177 and its regulations are shot through with the central obligation of School Boards “to ensure effective stewardship of the Board’s resources”, “to effectively use the resources entrusted to it”, to “use the resources entrusted to it for the purposes of delivering effective and appropriate education”, and most Machiavellian of all, to “manage the resources entrusted to it in a manner that upholds public confidence”. (Appendix A: Bill 177 – Duties and Powers of School Boards)

This last obligation, the obligation of School Boards and Trustees to sell provincial education cuts to the public, will put School Boards and Trustees in contravention of the Education Act if they are even remotely critical of provincial government funding policies and education transfers. What would be the consequences if Trustees and School Boards did what Minister Wynne did in 2002-03, when she and a majority of the Toronto Public Board supported by the vast majority of local electors, refused to make the budget cuts directed by the Supervisor and the Ministry?

The answer is in Bill 177 and its regulations (Appendix B: Education Act – Section 11.1 - Provincial Interest Regulations), which state that the Ministry can force a School Board to comply with funding cuts: “(6) a regulation… may require a board to adopt and implement measures specified in the regulation to ensure that the board’s funds and other resources are applied (i) effectively, and (ii) in compliance with this Act, the regulations and the policies and guidelines made under this Act.”

Further, any School Board that baulked or defied fiscal compliance would immediately trigger a process leading to provincial supervision, in other words provincial trusteeship over the Board.

In some provinces, provincial governments have unilaterally eliminated locally elected and accountable school boards with strong community roots. Is this where the Liberal government is heading? Bill 177 and its regulations give rise to such concerns in Ontario.

The provincial government lets on that justification for the draconian measures contained in Bill 177 and its regulations is in the revelations of inappropriate spending by some Trustees at the Toronto Catholic Board.

While spending by some Trustees was indeed inappropriate, none of it was criminal, and all of the funds questioned have been returned. If criminal action had been involved, the government had the ability to act decisively and immediately using the full range of civil and criminal laws to lay charges. But the government didn’t lay charges, and instead used the opportunity presented to draft Bill 177 and accompanying regulations. If passed, it’s Bill 177 and the regulations that are likely to prove a far greater crime to public education in Ontario.

What caused Trustees at the Toronto Catholic Board to spend inappropriately was, in fact, the cuts to Trustee honoraria brought in by the Harris Tories. The Harris government cut Trustee honoraria from a provincial average of about $20,000 annually plus medical and dental benefits, to a high of $5,000 and eliminated all benefits. In the process, they increased the size of Trustee wards by a factor of 8, and eliminated the right of local Boards and communities to determine the amount of work expected of Trustees and to set the equivalent honoraria for the job.

The mass vilification of teachers, educational workers, School Boards and Trustees that characterized the Harris years were no doubt a further contribution to the demoralizing climate at the Toronto Catholic Board, which preceded the spending irregularities there.

Instead of Bill 177, the government should draft legislation to restore and enhance the powers of local School Boards, including

o introduce a needs-based funding formula now, to guarantee adequate and stable funding to Ontario’s public School Boards and a universal, quality system of public education in Ontario

o remove education from the property tax, and fund education from provincial general revenues

o repeal balanced budget legislation affecting school boards, hospitals, and municipalities

o strengthen local autonomy and democracy for Ontario School Boards

o restore the right of School Boards and communities to set appropriate honoraria and benefits for Trustees

o provide status for School Boards and municipalities in the Canadian Constitution

o repeal Harris era “Secondary reform” and introduce a broad based liberal arts curricula, including Canadian history, Aboriginal history, and labour and women’s studies

o repeal standardized testing

o fight for ESL funding, and fund Special Education to meet the needs of all Ontario students

o fund hot breakfast and lunch programs

Locally elected and accountable, strong local boards with deep roots in communities across Ontario, combined with a needs-based funding formula can build a universal, quality system of education in Ontario.

Respectfully submitted,

Executive Committee

Communist Party of Canada (Ontario)

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