SD5 board slams Bill 11, wage freeze

Board sends letters to various government ministries voicing displeasure with Bill 11, exempt staff wage freeze.

The SD5 school board has sent letters off to various government ministries as it took issue with wages for exempt staff and Bill 11 at a recent meeting.

According to the SD5 board chair Frank Lento, Bill 11—which was enacted into law earlier in March—was rushed through through the legislature and lacked consultation.

“Changes to the School Act dilute the decision-making powers of locally elected Boards of Education while providing board and unprecedented powers to a sole individual, the government-appointed Minister of Education,” said Lento.

Bill 11 contains amendments to the School Act, the Teachers Act and Advanced Education Amendment Act.

Lento adds that the amendments pertain to shared service decisions, student data  disclosure and administrative directives—including the appointment of a special advisor or committee to school districts and the management of a district’s schools and school properties.

“The decision to close a school or sell school property rests with the local Board of Education, an elected body which is required to consult, in good faith, with their community prior to decision-making,” said Lento. “The recently amended School Act gives the Minister of Education the sole authority to direct a district to close a school or sell a property—without ever setting foot in the community.”

In addition to the language contained within Bill 11, the board is also concerned with the lack of consultation to its content.

Boards of Education are co-governors with the Ministry of Education and responsible for the deliver of public education, as outlined in a recently updated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). That update was co-authored by the B.C. School Trustees Association and the Ministry of Education in December 2014.

Though the BCSTA and member-boards asked for consolation prior to the Bill’s introduction into the legislature, the request went unheeded.

Lento insists that Boards of Education are elected to represent their communities in educational matters and must advocate to the province on issues such as school replacement, funding and the delivery of education.

“At present, there is a reasonable expectation by British Columbians that the Trustees they elect are afforded the same capacity to represent their constituents as municipal, provincial and federally elected representatives”, said Lento. “Our Board believes that Bill 11, by transferring important decision-making powers to a single individual in Victoria, is a direct threat to these democratic rights and expectations, regardless of the individual’s political affiliation.”

While the BCSTA is hopeful that consultations on new regulations stemming from the bill will take place between Peter Fassbender, the Minister of Education, Lento is not so optimistic, noting that the provincial government has repeatedly ignored opportunities to work together.

Lento cites the 2013 dismantling of B.C. Public School Employers Association board and the recent directive to cut $54 million from school district budgets for ‘administrative savings’.

“They have a track record of doing things without so much as a heads up,” said Lento.

In addition to concerns about Bill 11, the SD5 Board also wrote a letter on the subject of exempt staff wage freeze, noting that exempt staff have had a wage freeze since 2009.

In the past, Lento has noted that teachers in the B.C. Teachers’ Federation have had increases, while exempt staff, have not.

“The iniquity of pay raises across the sector has created a level of compression that makes it even more difficult for districts such as our won to retain, promote or attract quality leaders,” wrote Lento, in the letter addressed to various government leaders and agencies.

“…This increase must happen and it must be fully funded by government if Boards are to preserve the integrity and viability of public education going forward. Our kids deserve the best—not the least—inexpensive—educational leaders.”