What to do with school boards?

“boards of education” have become the neglected, exploited stepchild of B.C. politics.

The saddest manifestation of British Columbia’s modern democracy has produced its judgment, with the election of school trustees for the next four years.

There are still independent, community-minded trustees, but mostly “boards of education” have become the neglected, exploited stepchild of B.C. politics.

Teacher union locals and CUPE-dominated “labour councils” organize candidate forums and ask most of the questions, often to former teachers holding and seeking school board seats. Unions finance the campaigns of those who pledge to act as a bullhorn for constant demands for more provincial money, and instruct their members to vote for what should be called the Conflict of Interest slate.

This has been going on for so long in B.C. it is seen as normal. Trustees who most loudly plump for their union masters tend to win, thanks to low turnout. The public mostly doesn’t give a damn, since school property tax authority was centralized in Victoria many years ago, largely because of this special interest pressure.

The classic case is in Coquitlam, where one could almost hear the theme from The Godfather as local CUPE boss Dave Ginter appeared before the board of education in February. He informed the elected trustees that their collective financial acumen wasn’t up to his standards and some of them would have to go this fall.

“Obviously, the chore I have is to find new trustees,” Ginter clarified in an interview with the Tri-City News as the union’s candidate selection machine stirred to life.

Ginter seems to have made them an offer they couldn’t refuse on Saturday, with formerly union-blessed trustees turfed out in favour of a new group.

Then there’s Vancouver Island, where the 1970s survived, at least until Saturday night. Cowichan school board got itself fired by the province in 2012 for refusing to submit a balanced budget. Two of the trustees who think the job is to flout the balanced budget rule and instead demand a “needs budget” ran again.

They were joined on a slate by two others who apparently still believe the answer to every problem is to shout for “more government funding.” They didn’t get in, as voters appear to have been unimpressed by seeing their school board replaced by a provincially-appointed manager for two years.

That brings up a modest proposal. How about an appointed trustee for each of the 60 school districts? School boards have lost authority over taxation, curriculum (another area of constant union social engineering pressure) and now labour relations. Do we really need them any more?

After the 2013 B.C. election, the Christy Clark government wasted no time taking control of union bargaining on behalf of school districts. Trustees were pushed out of the bargaining agency, no longer trusted to represent taxpayers for that duty either.

The puppet role of some school trustees was evident in the recent teacher strike. When the province opted to pay parents for the disruption, there was a chorus of protest from those supposedly elected to represent the interests of parents and taxpayers.

School tax rates are now set by cabinet order, and the B.C. Liberal government is considering a move to regulate local industrial taxes. (This would presumably be to keep union-influenced municipalities from trying to get too many golden eggs from those liquefied natural gas plants.)

Would Education Minister Peter Fassbender and his team continue their remake by amalgamating or eliminating school boards? Not likely.

With a rare teacher settlement in place, trustees will have less incentive to grandstand. And their meetings may become something more than union beef sessions.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press newspapers. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc.

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