Abolish School Boards – a movement?


Abolishing school boards would release intended education dollars to their intended targets – students.  At the moment far too much of that earmarked money is skimmed off at the school board level for: a) junkets and expensive conferences/professional development for trustees, administrators, consultants, etc. many of whom have little direct relationship with students; b) professional services such as public relations advice, legal services, and other non-student related fees; c) entrepreneurial businesses and recruitment of foreign students meant to add income (profits) to the budget but which may actually yield serious expenses and costs; d) misspending due to faulty accounting and reporting procedures; e) etc., etc.

I also have a dedicated website on the topic:  Abolish School Boards – help eliminate the redundant bureaucracy – a self-serving barrier between parents and their childrens’ education.  http://abolish-school-boards.org/

This is my essay “Abolish School Boards” published on the blog Report Card, a production of the Education Reporter, Janet Steffenhagen, for the Vancouver Sun.

Abolish School Boards

(by Tunya Audain, 091122, published in Report Card blog of Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun Education Reporter on story, “Trustees have tough job but no power, columnist says” 091122 http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/reportcard/default.aspx)

“District’s new decals a sign of poor management”. That’s the title of a letter to the editor by Craig Johnston to the North Shore News, who, in true whistleblower fashion, alerts us to what he perceives as misconduct of the school board and a waste of taxpayer dollars.  This self-aggrandizement, he says, is “nauseating”.  (This item was discussed in a previous blog story.)

Were it not for citizen watchdogs alerting us through media channels I fear that the public would never see how public institutions such as school boards are abandoning their intended mission – that of serving the best interests of children instead of their own perverse needs.

It’s no wonder that there are increasingly more calls for abolishing these twisty and twisted school boards of today.

Coincidentally, in the same issue of the North Shore News as was Craig’s letter, a regular columnist, Bill Bell, has some very harsh words regarding school boards as pretenses of local government.  In a previous article he calls “School trustees Victoria’s puppets” and this state exists regardless of the political ideological regime, whether NDP, Social Credit or Liberal. http://www.canada.com/northshorenews/news/viewpoint/story.html?id=95b2a310-5421-43b5-9646-f975e8883d78

In his latest column as reported above, Bell, a well-know media person, ramps up the “Abolish School Boards” movement.  From citizens in this education blog ever more frequently calling for the demise of this dysfunctional and counterproductive structure, to school board candidates (I was one last fall whose main plank was to work to abolish school boards), to an ex-superintendent, Doug Player, arguing for dissolution of the boards, we now add a media voice to the call.   http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/reportcard/archive/2009/10/11/dissolve-school-boards-and-move-education-to-municipal-councils.aspx

It is definitely time for more citizens to add their voices to dismantle the present inefficient model of education delivery.

In the cause of liberating education dollars away from the vested special interests – and there are dozens of categories here (teacher unions, administrator groups, teacher training institutions, burgeoning legal outfits, public relations consultants, early childhood education lobbies, etc., etc.) – and bringing commonsense and local autonomy back to the grassroots, we must challenge this cancerous behemoth that suffocates. No wonder they call themselves “stakeholders”.  The “stakes” are indeed high!

More citizen voices need to be raised against those powerful groups who insidiously and consistently block needed reform out of selfish greed. Yet, and we see it all the time, they say they do it for the children!

A philosophy that trusts local parents and local teachers to produce educational results is a far better and much simpler form than central control and thousands of middle men and suckers who feed off the opportunities so easily exploited. The present school board model invites misspending, corruption, diversions and adventurism.

It is downright unethical and immoral what is going on under the cover of school boards.  The Detroit public school scandal is a cautionary tale of just how evil this can become.  Look it up.

The model school board that HAS proven most successful over time is the one that exists at the local school.  That has stood the test of time – the one room school house, the private independent school, the parent-participation pre-school, the charter school.  The dollar already is supposed to follow the child.  Bring it back to the local school instead of channeling it through the school board offices where it is mercilessly skimmed before reaching the classroom. Whether it be vouchers, charters, tuition tax credits or some other model, we need to recover those precious dollars that are needed for our precious children and grandchildren – FOR THEIR EDUCATION AND SPECIAL NEEDS.

Nobel Winner, Elinor Ostrom, Offers Hope for Responsive Schools


Responsive Schools Key to Good Society: Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Winner

Can citizens effectively and efficiently manage their own affairs?  Their own schools? Can self-governance work in education? YES, there is this hope for schools — provided there is limited central state interference and provided powerful special self-interest insiders don’t dominate.

That is the message Elinor Ostrom, a co-winner in this year’s Nobel Economics prize, passes on to help empower people at local levels to 1) challenge outsiders and self-interests, and 2) confidently evolve the procedures, rules, and oversight which serve their interests.  She cautions against any one-size-fits-all model. Local people, local governance.

She and others of her school of thought challenge the usual dichotomy in seeking solutions – state or market.  Should there be state finance, control and provision of services and resource management OR should the markets prevail?  There is a third way – shared ownership.

While Ostrom’s work has usually dealt with user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins, she has also been embraced by development workers, especially in third world countries.  Her general principles apply to any area where citizens manage their own projects — without the heavy fist of the state or the invisible hand of the market.

Ostrom distinguishes the three methods of provision:  public, private, and civil. She sees more citizens becoming involved in policy analysis and application if they are to avoid becoming “the objects of an authoritarian regime” or exploited for profit.

Self-governing, adaptive organizations follow these principles:

1.  Balance power at many levels within the structure (checks and balances)
2.  Monitor performances and hold designated persons accountable
3.  Accept conflict as healthy, indicating need for mediation or more problem-solving
4.  Empower citizens and communities with enforceable rights to check abuses of authority

Regarding the education field she comments that simplistic solutions can go “amok”.  Amazing word to be used by an academic — "berserk, demoniacal, possessed, insane, characteristic of mental derangement” (Wikipedia)! 

After studying 70 years of school district consolidations in the name of efficiency and equity she found that these “top-down, command-and-control solutions” did not result in better achievement or lower per-pupil spending.  She concludes that “policy makers are reconsidering the consequences of past reforms and recommending charter schools, voucher systems, and other reforms to create more responsive schools.”

In other words, she concludes, “state control has usually proved to be less effective and efficient than control by those directly affected” and sometimes even “disastrous in its consequences.”

What applies to common-pool forests and fish-stocks applies to people services as well.  That is why school-based management, independent schools, charter schools, parent participation preschool cooperatives, etc. work so well.  Unfortunately, today, they are often resisted and blocked by powerful self-interests. 

Fortunately, however, we now have a more prominently revealed social science to help those who seek shared ownership solutions to social services. Change activists in education could gain a lot of tips from studying the works of Elinor Ostrom.   (See: “Policy Analysis in the Future of Good Societies” by Elinor Ostrom) http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/good_society/v011/11.1ostrom.html


Cease and Desist (C&D) Letters to Parents


Sometimes parents are seriously discouraged from pursuing complaints or criticism through receipt of cease and desist letters from a School Board, teacher union, or other public service union related to schools.  Here is an interesting article:



Goliaths vs. Davids
Teachers’ unions suing parents
By Andrew Nikiforuk
Canadian Family, March 2005, p. 28

In Alberta and British Columbia, two powerful teachers’ unions are suing parents for defamation. Although both unions claim to champion the downtrodden, the lawsuits also deliver another, less comforting message. The targets of both of these actions are blue-collar families whose alleged defamations arose in the course of advocating for their children’s education.

Let’s begin with Dawna McGowan, a 42-year-old mom and former school volunteer in Hinton, Alta. The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) is suing her and her husband, Ken, a Canadian Pacific engineer, for $210,000 and has placed a lien on their home. It started when McGowan challenged a principal for releasing pupil information to a photographer. Before long, things turned ugly.

She is now one of four Albertans being jointly sued by the ATA for defamation. After defendants received unusual "cease and desist" letters from the ATA in 2001, they contacted Denis Lapierre, a longtime parent advocate who posted the letters on his website, Schoolworks!_now shut down. Deluged with support and inquiries, they posted other items on the site, explaining parents’ respective complaints. Though none accused a specific teacher or school district of offensive behaviour, the ATA deemed the material defamatory to the profession and sued Lapierre and the four for $1.8 million.

Robyn Reid, a single mother with three special-needs boys in Red Deer, still can’t believe the union’s tough stance. After one of her sons had been placed in a special-needs class, Reid identified several educational gaps in his program. When the local school and school district refused to provide extra tutoring, she took her case to the province. "I wasn’t out to get teachers, I was out to get the right education for my child," she says. The ATA disagreed to the tune of $150,000. One of the sued parents has already declared bankruptcy.

For posting the original letters, Lapierre is facing a lawsuit of more than $1 million. He’s shut down his advocacy business and his website. "The purpose of the lawsuit is to silence us, and it has worked," says Lapierre, who now drives a truck and can’t afford his legal bills.

Sue Halstead, a mother of five children in Comox Valley, B.C., agrees. The well-known child advocate operates a feisty website that among other posted criticisms, dares to itemize the behaviour of teachers who have been criminally charged or disciplined by the profession. Her site is still active but now displays several apologies since her receipt of a "cease and desist" letter. But neither apologies nor the removal of the offending documents stopped nine teachers, a former trustee and a parent represented by the British Columbia Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) from suing Halstead last spring for "using the internet to wage a personal attack on certain participants in the B.C. education system." That’s already cost Halstead $23,000, and she and her husband, a school janitor, can’t afford a lawyer for her trial. "We’re going to lose our house, and all I tried to do was tell the truth and protect children," she says.

Neither of these lawsuits strikes me as wise or civil, not to mention just, Terri Watson, president of the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, describes the BCTF’s legal action as "inappropriate" and operating with a "clear imbalance of power and resources." Democratic institutions such as schools, she adds, need people like
Halstead to test the system and foster improvement.

Jinny Sims president of the BCTF, counters that the suit against Halstead was in no way launched lightly and is "not about pitting one parent against the might of the BCTF. It’s about defending our members, who are being damaged in their work and personal lives." Dr. Gordon Thomas, executive secretary of the ATA, admits that his association is "not ecstatic about representing teachers in a defamation suit" and notes that it has launched only two such actions in the past 82 years. "What we are after is the fair representation of our teachers."

The ATA claims that one of its primary mandates is "to arouse and increase public interest in the importance of education." The BCTF makes similar claims. But how do these lawsuits support that goal, let alone help children? To restore civility to the educational arena, both provinces need to set up an ombudsman’s office, where parents and educators can hash out their differences on equal ground. When teacher unions start suing parents, the behave more like punitive corporations than enlightened public organizations. Strangling dissent, even allegedly hurtful dissent, doesn’t strengthen education any more than it strengthens democracy.

BC Education System Creaking, Cracking, Croaking!


I just published in a local blog the following comment on mismanagement and "accounting errors" in Langley School District.  I infer from my comments that this may not be the only jurisdiction with major bookkeeping and reporting flaws. I am calling for a full-scale forensic accounting examination of the accounts, reporting and due diligence of the school board.

BC Education System is Creaking and Cracking and Croaking.

(by Tunya Audain, comment published 090911, in The Report Card blog by Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun education reporter on topic: “Education Minister and quote of the month” 090910)

Look at the Langley school district fiasco — a $4.8 million deficit suddenly balloons into $8.3 million due to “accounting errors”.    That $35,000 paid by the School Board for a financial “review” is peanuts compared to what a proper forensic accounting examination would cost.  But, it would be worth it.  It would ferret out, item by item, digit by digit, the cause and effect of the problem revealed by the shocking and stunning disclosures this week.  It’s not as if there weren’t warnings and red flags all over the place.  They were there, but were snubbed and dismissed.

A proper forensic accounting report, I think, should be properly and appropriately ordered and financed by the Provincial Government.  It would:

–   Catch what the board’s auditor and external review failed to catch
–    Provide an accurate account of assets and liabilities
–    Discover if there has been deception, cover-up, fraud
–    Determine if proper accounting procedures were followed
–    Establish if there was proper reporting and administrative response
–    Check if the board of trustees were well-informed in a timely manner for decision-making and oversight
–    Examine if proper accountability procedures were in place and followed
–    Determine if the law has been broken
–    Provide evidence for future litigation if supporting data is revealed
–    Comment on whether a “blind eye” was turned on complaints and alerts by members of the public
–    Further the public interest  
–    Clarify the language used in reporting to the public and media, eg, what constitutes “cost pressures”

Whether small or large corruptions are found, or none at all, mistakes have certainly been made and incompetence has been acknowledged. It’s not just “underfunding” that’s brought on this state of affairs.

A recent research paper, entitled: Corruption and Educational Outcomes: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back by Francis Huang  http://journals.sfu.ca/ijepl/index.php/ijepl/article/viewFile/142/59

says :  “…corruption has the potential of holding back or sabotaging a country’s education progress – much like taking two steps forward and one step back…turning a blind eye to it does not make it go away but actually encourages it. Eliminating corruption involves a culture change and a shift in mind-set along with the implementation of accountability systems and processes.” 

Huang further elaborates that it’s no surprise that corruption might occur in education systems world-wide (she studied 50 countries) because “education is the largest or second-largest budget item in most countries and opportunities for corrupt practices are numerous.”

Given that last observation, shouldn’t the whole Ministry of Education and all boards have forensic accounting reports done?  At $8,323 per child shouldn’t we want to know what percentage of that actually reaches the target?

Or are we funding a self-serving industry, serving selfish vested interests?  Only a credible, in-depth examination will tell us if the present model is effective and efficient or if we need to search for better models of education delivery.


Precious Cartoon for Back-to-School


With ever more demand for choices in education– from parents, students, teachers — here is a CARTOON which says it all.

Print it out in full color, post it on your bulletin board, fridge. Pass it on!