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Getting rid of school board elections not a smart idea

I have come to a rather sad conclusion about our educational system in Saskatchewan. It is simply not doing a good job of producing enough smart people for leadership positions in this province.
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I have come to a rather sad conclusion about our educational system in Saskatchewan.

It is simply not doing a good job of producing enough smart people for leadership positions in this province.

For proof, look no further than the “transformational change” discussions going on at the moment, which have involved changing the structure of health boards and school boards all across Saskatchewan.

What ideas have been floated? A main one we have been hearing for some time is of changes to the school boards. The suggestion is that one option on the table is more amalgamations. The other option is to get rid of elections for the trustee positions and to instead appoint board members.

This is, without question, the dumbest idea that has been floated in this province in a long, long time.

Which goes to my original point: the education system is letting us down! It is failing to produce the “leaders of tomorrow” who will save us from ideas such as this!

Of course, I am jesting a bit, but this is no laughing matter. I haven’t yet met anyone who thinks getting rid of board elections is a good move. They say appointed trustees totally flies in the face of common sense, because it is undemocratic and will result in a loss of accountability to the constituents.

Living Sky and Light of Christ divisions oppose the idea. City council talked about the issue this past month and they, too, were appalled.

Council also discussed the potential loss of regional decision making, saying the best way to solve local challenges is for decisions to be made close to home.

That opens up a huge kettle of frustration right there. Many local folks feel the decision making is already getting away from them.

It increasingly seems like it is the government in Regina, not school board trustees, that is calling most of the shots. It is the province dictating the way taxes are collected, the way schools are being built (P3s or not P3s), whether they are to be built in the first place, how much money school divisions are getting, and so on.  

These boards are having an increasingly hard time because of a lack of money. They are forever having to go hat in hand to the province. I’ve seen it myself at “post-budget breakfasts” hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. Year after year, school board officials beg and plead with the finance minister for commitments for this, that and the next thing. It always ends up an exercise in frustration.

Then there is this issue of amalgamation of the boards. You would think it ought to be the boards that would have the final say on this, but again, this is out of their hands. The last round of school division amalgamations were imposed by the province, and it looks like it could happen again.

To those on the outside, it looks like the real influence of these boards is getting to be weaker and weaker. This must surely be a reason why you see so much apathy for school board elections around here. The last election produced few candidates, lots of acclamations and little interest.

Maybe this is why folks in the provincial government feel they can pull a fast one and scrap board elections. No one cares anyway, they figure, so no one will miss them.

As I see it, things ought to change, all right, but in the direction of greater local decision making so that home-grown solutions have a better chance of being implemented. But this “transformational change” discussion is going in the opposite direction. 

You’re not going to get better local accountability or more local decision making if what you get in the end are fewer school boards made up entirely of Sask. Party government-appointed flunkeys and lackeys.

What you’ll see are boards accountable not to the people, but to Regina. They’ll take marching orders from the premier and the Ministry of Education, and these boards will essentially serve as a rubber stamp for decisions made in the capital.

There are likely Sask. Party diehards out there who will say this will be far better than having boards with NDP supporters obstructing the government’s education agenda.

The problem is that if the NDP boots the Sask. Party out of power, you’ll end up with boards totally made up of NDP-appointed supporters instead. This will irritate Sask. Party voters to no end.

As for local issues, these appointed school boards might have local people on them, and they might listen to you, but they aren’t going to represent you. These boards are going to do a good job representing the provincial government to the local people, not the other way around.  

Frankly, doing away with elected school boards screams “centralization” and “arrogance.” Voters don’t like that, and I’m convinced the Sask. Party will pay a major political price if they allow this to happen. 

I also question whether doing away with board elections will save the province money, supposedly the real reason behind the proposals. 

The reality is school boards are always voted on at the same time as municipal governments. The municipal votes have to be held anyway, so you might as well vote on school boards, too.

The real question is whether this “advisory panel” on transformational change is even going to listen to the mountain of opposition they are surely getting. Surely to goodness, common sense will prevail.

Honestly, the idea of not holding elections is right out of the playbook of fascist or communist states — places that are perfect examples of how not to do things.

Who came up with this idea of getting rid of elected school boards? That person sure didn’t pay attention during history class.