Board of Trustees miss the point

The response of the Board of Trustees to Carole Oliver shows that they missed the point. Carole’s letter wasn’t about Chief Superintendent Naomi Johnson, it was about the Board of Trustees. The message was: When your chief superintendent doesn’t follow your direction, it is your responsibility to clarify and correct. Their response was essentially that she followed their direction and anyway, the Ends justify the means.

The Calgary Board of Education is not achieving the Ends. End 1 (the “mega-end”) reads: “Each student, in keeping with his or her individual abilities and gifts, will complete high school with a foundation of learning to function effectively in life, work and continued learning.” In 2009, the high school completion rate after 3 years was 69.6%, down from 70.8% in 2005. The goal for 2010 was 69.8%, far from “each student”. Giving students two additional years to complete high school raises the completion rate to only 78.0%, far short of the level required by the mega-end.

Chair Cochrane claims that Chief Superintendent Naomi Johsnon did not act contrary to the Board’s direction. The Board’s direction was: “That the Board of Trustees directs the Chief Superintendent to distribute the $19.2 million directly to schools. After directing $4.2 million to AISI, $15 million is to be directed to schools using the resource allocation method.” Whereas RAM would have allocated more money for schools with more special needs students, Naomi told parents in the November newsletter insert that schools received the money equally per student. “The additional $4.2 million of AISI funding equals $43.50 per student. … The rest of the additional funding for the CBE totals $15 million or $155.30 per student.” The Chief Superintendent provided a contradictory written statement to the Calgary Herald claiming: “Our approach used the RAM (resource allocation model).” All 200 principals in the CBE know how the funds were distributed, and what the difference is between RAM and an equal per-student amount.

Why would the Chief Superintendent produce two obviously contradictory written statements? And why would the Board of Trustees attempt to cover over the error and the misleading statements? According to the board’s governance model, the Board of Trustees’ only function is to hire the chief superintendent, enunciate the Ends (goals) of the organization and hold her accountable for performance. In a chain reaction, the public can only hold the trustees accountable for what goes on in the school system. If something goes wrong in the system, such as incorrectly following the directions of the Board, the chief superintendent is responsible to the trustees and the trustees are responsible to the public. Trustees may hope that, if they are able to cover up mistakes and avoid holding the chief superintendent accountable, they may be able to avoid accountability to the electorate.

If the Board of Trustees refuses to take responsibility for the outcomes of the school system, they not only avoid accountability, but they remove the only purpose they ever served. The public and the school system don’t require ornamental figureheads to adorn our ceremonies. Citizens need a body that represents our ownership of the school system and that works to create a school system that responds to the needs of those it serves.

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