Public education in Ontario is in need of change. Current labour issues aside, operational cuts to the system have become the norm. Meanwhile the need for more in-class resources has never been greater. Twenty-five years ago, the province attempted reforming the system by consolidating school boards. That attempt failed to generate any real financial savings. So how can the province improve the school system? One way may be to cut out school boards altogether.
Many of the roles that school boards historically had, are now filled by Ontario’s Ministry of Education. Labour contract negotiations – wages, benefits, funding initiatives – are settled at the provincial level. Only job requirements for individual school boards are negotiated locally. Student funding is set by the ministry on a per-student basis.
Local boards no longer set tax levy rates, and residential taxes contribute little towards the revenue used to fund education. Capital projects for new construction, expansion, and repairs is a separate budget for each board, approved by the ministry. School board trustees, elected to represent their constituents, are powerless to bring forth issues or in some cases to even ask simple questions. Trustees have become largely a rubber stamp for administrative policies, and the face of bad news. So why have school boards at all?
The Ontario Public Service can handle the functions of Ontario’s 76 school boards. In fact, there could be a real cost savings in integrating school board operations. Finance, human resources, IT, payroll, capital projects, maintenance and repair just to name a few.
Education reform does not mean that local schools would have to close. The constitutionally-mandated and funded Catholic education system would not end, nor would French language education. The Ministry would operate all public education, which it mostly does already.
One more benefit to eliminating school boards would be the end of centuries-old geographic boundaries that cause unneeded duplication between coterminous school boards. Students could attend schools closest to their home, regardless of some line on a map.
Ontario is in significant debt. As school populations decline, especially in rural communities, we need a creative solution to deliver better education while lowering costs. Ending school boards may just be one of those solutions. The status quo is not working, and our students are paying the price.