Education Action: Toronto

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2. Finance and Governance: Who Pays? Who Decides?


“He who pays the piper calls the tune.” That’s an old adage in responsible government. “No taxation without representation.” That’s another. But maybe this one needs to be matched with another: “No representation without taxation.” What do we mean by this? Read on.

Democracy in Education

Education is so deeply connected with our sense of citizenship and our humanity that we can never assign all of the decision-making responsibilities affecting its cost and its impact on our families and our society to the hands of professional experts, whether they be distant administrators or front-line teachers.

At the same time, we can’t take all of the decision-making away from the professionals and put it into our own individual hands. A larger framework of democratic government for our schools is needed, and professional teachers and administrators must play a central role in it too.

The broader framework is essential because there are values in our society that apply to all of us and they can make a positive difference in our lives when they are embodied in government. Some of these values are spelt out in the preambles to our curriculum and anti-racist policy statements. But they can be held in place only by broad legislation that defines and upholds the requirements, rights and responsibilities of contemporary citizenship and the role that public education plays in the construction and preservation of that citizenship. These are:

  • the transmission of knowledge with deeply human purposes,
  • the induction of young people into a genuinely participatory democracy, and
  • a broad commitment to equity and human rights.

If these values are to reach all learners, they need to be passed on by professionally trained and ethically responsible teachers, dedicated to public service and with all necessary support from the representatives of the whole society as well as the local communities in which the teaching and learning that gives shape to our lives takes place.

So in all things educational there must be room for professional decisions to be made both centrally and locally.

The values and processes and structures that govern these professional activities, however, must be framed and set by bodies controlled by elected representatives of the general public. That is because the general public, through its representatives, provides the broad direction for our school system as well as the taxes used to fund public education as a public good and as a requirement for all its emerging citizens. Elected bodies have a duty to see that this is done fairly and in accordance with their constitutional responsibilities. Equally, we must remember that public education thrives on partnerships between local teachers, families and school communities, however tenuous or hidden those partnerships may be. Public education must, therefore, take local conditions (of families and neighbourhoods) into account as learning takes shape and gains in substance in classrooms and school-based activities. There must be a strong local government to support public education. Elected trustees at local boards must be able make key decisions involving our schools and must have the taxation authority to fund them.

Where local education democracy stands now in Ontario

As things go in Ontario nowadays, local government in education involves responsibility for decisions affecting

(1) teaching and learning under its jurisdiction,

(2) its complement of teachers along with maintenance and support staff, and

(3) the stock of public property used for its educational and administrative purposes .

Over the last 15 years, however, school board responsibilities in these areas have been gutted of most of their substance as the Ministry of Education has moved to micromanage how these responsibilities will be carried out, while, at the same time, it has removed the power from local boards to raise public money to cover these obligations. Local school board politicians are still answerable in many ways for the adequacy of the teaching and learning, of its teachers and other employees, and of its physical facilities to their electorates, but have next to no ability to deliver anything other than what the province tells them to do. As an example of responsible government, it’s a bad joke.

Education Finance

As for education finance, school board funding is decided centrally in Ontario, while the funds themselves come from the provincial government’s general revenues and local property taxes that are set provincially. Teachers’ and school board workers’ compensation and general working conditions are set by means of provincial framework agreements. These agreements come from Provincial Discussion Tables involving the province, school board associations, teachers’ federations and school board worker unions, while local school boards bargain board-specific employment conditions locally when they ratify the provincial agreements in local collective agreements. Other school board employees have their compensation and working conditions set at the local school board level, but the money for this too comes from budgetary transfers determined and allocated by the province. School boards are responsible for the construction, maintenance and disposal of physical facilities, but they are constrained in their access to capital construction and improvement funds by the province. The province requires boards to dispose of surplus space before it can acquire new sites or build new schools, and the definition of what is surplus space is determined by the province without any say from the local communities that such public facilities can and should serve. The new Bill 177 even curtails boards ability to raise debentures for capital costs on their own.

It’s a mess, and it offends a basic principle of democracy by which citizens elect representatives who both set taxation levels and determine how that money is spent. If the provincial government were the sole decider in all things educational, then we could say that the link between taxation and representation was secure. But it isn’t the sole decider. And even if it were, another feature of democracy would be sacrificed. That feature insists that people get to elect local governments to raise taxes and make decisions affecting things that are close to home. In Ontario, that has included the huge range of municipal services from transportation systems and infrastructure, water, waste disposal and sewage systems to public health, childcare services, cultural events and facilities, recreational events and facilities. In many cases, these things are done in partnership with other levels of government or with arms-length public bodies. Nevertheless, the local provision of these services is funded to a large extent by taxes levied on local property holders as the result of decisions made by local politicians elected locally.

For many decades, the same held true for the education of all those required by law to attend school under a framework of provincial Acts and Regulations. There was a strong component of local democracy reflected in the right to set levies and to decide how to spend that money. Of course, the provincial government has the constitutional right and duty to enact legislation concerning education and to fund it centrally and that is appropriate because education provides a public good that goes beyond the local community. It is not appropriate, however, to use this formal power to destroy the involvement of local levels of government in the development and financial support of our school system. A key element of democracy – central to the health of our schools – has been destroyed with it.

What can we do?

What Education Action: Toronto proposes is the re-instatement of local democracy in public education and the reconstruction of local power to fund our schools. Part of this means restoring strong school boards in which the local community, represented by elected politicians, works in partnership with professional educators to strengthen public education, and in which a measure of local taxation authority is re-invested. Another part means re-examining the ways in which schools and communities can work more effectively together by conceiving of schools as hubs of community activity and development and by finding the best ways to fund and govern them as joint ventures. Finally, we need to reconsider the organization of the local community school, its funding and the role in its governance of the various parties involved in the teaching and learning partnerships it fosters.

Finance and Governance Who Pays? Who Decides?

1. Strengthening School Democracy

We are for

  • the maintenance of an open, accessible public school system for all to counter the appeal of alternatives to public school attendance, whether in private institutions or by dropping out;
  • accessible and easily understood decision-making processes within schools, school boards, and other arms and levels of government with responsibilities for public education, processes that are mandated by provincial statute;
  • the recognition that teachers, non-instructional school staff, learners, parent/guardians, and members of the surrounding communities all have a role to play in the decision-making processes affecting school life, including staffing allocation models and principal selection;
  • the provision of time for teachers to work together under the leadership of the principal as a head teacher, who will work to keep the administrative burden on classroom teachers to a minimum;
  • the encouragement of parent/guardians and community members to participate as volunteers in such activities as school yard and lunch room supervision and appropriate orientation and training for them;
  • the inclusion of parent/guardians and community members as resource people in classroom learning and supervised homework programs, as well as the design of nutritious snacks and meals, inclusive of breakfast and lunches; and
  • the existence of a strong School Community Relations Department in every urban school board, mandated to develop and support diverse parental and community involvement in schools.

We are against

  • the systematic exclusion of parents, learners, community members, teachers and other school staff members from school, school board and ministry decision-making; and
  • the increasing concentration of decision-making power at the provincial level.

2. School Boards and Local Levies

We are for

  • strong local school boards that promote values of education for good citizenship and for the benefit of all residents in their jurisdiction;
  • locally elected school trustees with time to work with the school communities in their electoral wards;
  • a spirit of collaborative partnership between school trustees and senior administrators in the development and implementation of initiatives developed in local school communities and implemented with the assistance of area offices;
  • adequate orientation and induction programs for all school trustees to enable them to do their work effectively;
  • trustee membership of all school councils in their ward and in area office councils;
  • an increase in the number of school trustees in large urban areas to enable them to interact more effectively with their schools and area offices (e.g. one school trustee per municipal ward for TDSB);
  • adequate remuneration for school trustees pegged to a proportion of the municipal councillor’s salary (two-thirds) to make it possible for them to devote more time to school community work;
  • support staff for school trustees, with access to a revitalized research department;
  • the power to raise local levies for local projects, improvements to school premises and the operation of schools as community hubs;
  • the development of a number of area offices to include Teacher Resource centres in support of teacher-operated professional development, local curriculum projects and new forms of assessment and reporting to go along with these projects;
  • closer ties with the municipality in pursuit of the development of schools as community hubs;
  • closer ties between the public, Catholic, francophone public and francophone Catholic school boards with respect to the sharing of school space and in other activities that bridge the divide between these systems.

We are against

  • the erosion of the decision-making powers of school boards; and
  • the degradation of the democratic role of publicly elected school trustees.

3. Schools as Hubs of Community Development

We are for

  • an expanded role for schools and their facilities in the life and development of their neighbourhoods and the broader urban fabric;
  • a definition of this role to include parallel and shared use of schools and their facilities with the strict proviso that their use for public education take priority;
  • changes to provincial legislation and regulation so that schools cannot be considered to have surplus space or to be surplus to the needs of school boards for the purposes of public support if real community use is being made of their space;
  • parallel and shared uses of schools that maintain public property in public hands for the benefit of school neighbourhoods, the broader community and the general public;
  • parallel and shared uses of schools that do not put at risk the safety and welfare of the children, teachers and other school board staff who use the school;
  • parallel and shared uses of schools that are associated in every way possible with the educational programs in the school;
  • parallel and shared uses of schools that will involve the school-age population whenever possible;
  • parallel and shared uses of schools that will encourage the participation of supporters of all public school systems (public, catholic, francophone) together;
  • parallel and shared uses of schools that require no user fees;
  • the location in schools of ancillary educational services such as daycare, public nurses, publicly operated snack and meal services;
  • a long-term commitment to the retention, maintenance and operation of swimming pools on school premises for the benefit of both the school population and the broader public;
  • the parallel and shared uses of schools and school grounds for physical fitness, sports and other recreational activities in the broader community;
  • the parallel and shared uses of schools and school grounds for the rehearsals and performances of drama, music, dance, poetry, literary readings with local communities and for the general public;
  • the parallel and shared uses of schools and school grounds for the practice and exhibition of the visual and plastic arts by and for members of the local neighbourhood or including members of the local neighbourhood;
  • the parallel and shared uses of schools and school grounds to support local history projects and occasionally house exhibits relating to these for the benefit and interest of the school’s neighbourhood community;
  • the extension of school library hours to allow for after-hours homework programs and the public use of school libraries as reading rooms by family members;
  • the parallel and shared use of school space for public assemblies and meetings by local neighbourhood groups (as first priority) and broader community bodies that may be considered to contribute to community development and civic participation;
  • the use of the air-space and underground space on school sites for community-based initiatives in green energy generation (solar panels, geo-thermal installations) that can make the school self-sufficient in energy and supply surplus energy to the neighbourhood;
  • the use of school grounds for educational gardens, including food gardens, that can be shared with the community;
  • the use of school properties as demonstration sites for environmental initiatives such as rainfall capture, grey-water recycling, and innovative programs related to waste management, leaf pick-up and snow clearance;
  • the location of schools in purpose-built properties with publicly or co-operatively owned housing for senior citizens on higher floors.

We are against

  • the parallel use of public schools or any school board facilities by private educational institutions;
  • the sale or lease of public schools or any school board facilities to private educational institutions;
  • the parallel use, lease or sale of public schools or any school board facilities to the private for-profit sector; and
  • the contracting out of catering services in schools and school board facilities

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