In an interview with CBC this weekend Premier Robert Ghiz suggested that the government was leaning toward appointed rather than elected school trustees for the new single English-language school board here on Prince Edward Island. His language was fuzzy enough that this statement appeared to be more of a trial balloon than a sneak peek at a decision already made; it’s an idea, however, that flies in the face of the govenment’s own Education Government Commission, which, in its final report, recommended that the system of electing trustees remain in place:
For those supporting elections, school boards are more than a service delivery arm of the provincial government, as would be implied by an appointed board. They are one of the core institutions of local democracy, with roots in the earliest years of our society. It is notable that in many areas of public policy, there is growing recognition of the importance of being broadly representative and of hearing diverse points of view, as exemplified by processes such as citizen assemblies. Elected boards bring this potential for a broad external perspective to the education system.
As well, elected boards offer Islanders important opportunities for civic engagement, often leading to further involvement in public life. Both the Advisory Council on the Status of Women and the Coalition for Women in Government highlighted in their submissions, the accessibility of school board seats to women and the greater representation of women on school boards than on other governing bodies.
In the normal course of affairs I wouldn’t make comment on the Premier’s trial balloon, but happenstance meant that today I am the ranking available spokesperson for the PEI Home and School Federation and so far this has resulted in a phone interview with a reporter from the Eastern Graphic and a television interview with Compass’s Kerry Campbell.
This all meant that not only did I have to gather my thoughts more deeply on the issue, but also that I had to find that sweet spot on the Venn diagram where my own private thoughts overlap with what might be called “the voice of parents on Prince Edward Island,” which is an inexact thing to nail down at the best of times, and in this case we’ve not had an opportunity to discuss the issue as a group (our Annual General Meeting at the PEI Home and School Federation is this Saturday, and I’m sure this topic will be actively discussed there).
Here, then, is what I came up with:
- Participating in the school trustee process, both as electors and as trustees, is one of several routes by which parents, for more than a hundred years, have been able to engage with the education system.
- If participation in this process has been diminishing of late — voter turnout in school trustee elections has been abysmal in recent elections — that is not necessarily an indication that the fundamental notion of elected trustees is broken (and the Commission, indeed, addresses this point with recommendations related to adjusting and broadening the electoral process, educating the electorate and investing in trustee development).
- Recent experiences at the Eastern School District are not systemic, and certainly not a reason for abandoning democratic participation in the selection of trustees.
- The Premier’s suggestion that there might be those who, while not willing to stand for trustee in an election, would be willing to be appointed, gives lie to the heart of the democratic process itself.
- The Education Governance Commission was universally regarded as a group with solid research, broad deliberation and a thoughtful report; we should consider their recommendations seriously and if we are to set one or more of them aside, especially those as substantial as moving away from elected trustees, this shouldn’t be done without time for additional discussion and deliberation.
Being interviewed about something, especially when you’re representing as broad a group as “Island parents,” isn’t an easy task, and, truth be told, I have no idea whether or not I managed to clearly communicate any or all of the above in my interview with Kerry or with the Graphic.