The Association for Responsive Trusteeship in Calgary Schools in a recent meeting with Alberta Education Minister Dave Hancock, proposed an education ombudsman be added to the minister's tabled new education act. The act itself gives Alberta school boards natural person powers and facilitates the Alberta Government to not legislate how boards do their business. The minister says things are different in Calgary and Slave Lake and they need different ways of delivering education. Alberta boards need more autonomy.
ARTICS, whose mission is to encourage Calgary elected school board trustees to be transparent, responsive and accountable, says this act will make that goal more difficult without a mechanism to keep boards accountable. In the past, dysfunctional boards in Alberta could be fired by the education minister and were. In fact Minister Hancock himself did this as recently as 2010 to the The Northland School Division. The new act however gives the boards the right to get rid of individual trustees, giving the chair and those who side with the chair the power to silence dissenting voices on their board. Dissent is fundamental part of democracy and needs to be empowered, not suppressed. We all remember our social studies classes on democracy, majority rule with minority rights.
The idea of an education ombudsman would be unique in Canada and could bridge the gap between giving boards more autonomy and keeping them more accountable. Currently provincial ombudsmen have been appointed to help facilitate proper process when the provincial government deals with citizens. It is ONLY for direct provincial government departments and does not include areas like school boards, cities etc. That are funded by, but are arms length to the provincial government
For ARTICS an education ombudsmen would give parents and citizens a place to go when the school board system fails them. Hopefully the ombudsmen would look into the spirit of the process as currently boards will tell you they follow Alberta education requirements. In many cases, engagement is standing in front of a room of parents either sharing what they are planning to do, or listing parents concerns and not taking them into account. More importantly it would keep boards from acting in a dictatorial way and engage the public, to the end of making the best decisions. The value of an education ombudsmen in Alberta will be groundbreaking and give citizens a louder voice in the process.
ARTICS proposes provisions for an education ombudsman with the power to: Mandate school boards to re-visit decisions that are contrary to the public interest, Investigate the conduct of individual trustees and boards, Require the public's involvement in important school board decisions, Complete investigations and issue reports he/she deems appropriate to address concerns or complaints in the public interest and make recommendations to the Minister on actions to be taken to address incidents where boards have acted not in accordance with the act.
With the recent election of a new premier and Calgary's mayor one year ago, it is clear the public in Alberta crave their voices to be heard and this group has a made in Alberta solution that could be a template for the rest of the country. You can learn more about ARTICS at www.knowyourtrustee.com
Follow Larry Leach on Twitter: www.twitter.com/larrytheadman