Much has been written by provincial school trustee/board associations on what constitutes good governance. However, since Boards of Education (as they are called in British Columbia) serve at the pleasure of the provincial government, it would be informative to learn the government’s views on the matter. While the School Act is the legal authority on the functioning of boards it actually has little to say on how boards should conduct themselves. This has generally been seen as a good thing as it respects the autonomy of locally elected boards.
In BC, financial trouble in a school district has been the most common reason for the provincial government to intervene in the activities of a board. But over the last few years, the government has shown an increasing interest in the governance practices of boards, as evidenced by audits and surveys conducted by the Office of the Auditor General. The most recent and clearest example is the dismissal of SD83 (North Okanagan Shuswap) based almost entirely on what the Ministry of Education perceived as governance deficiencies. The Special Advisor’s report that led to the board’s dismissal (http://goo.gl/AvRJ3Y) is worthwhile reading for all boards – not to highlight the perceived problems in SD83, but to get a clearer understanding of the governance practices recommended in the report and accepted by the government.
The following is a brief listing of some of the more explicit governance expectations listed in the Watson Advisory Report. None of these recommendations are officially required of boards but a comparison against your own board’s practices may be prudent.
- A strategic plan that includes direction, policies and management performance expectations, that are reviewed annually.
- Delegation of operational responsibilities to management with regular oversight and reporting.
- Mandatory orientation for all trustees on roles and responsibilities.
- Board terms of reference, code of conduct and meeting procedures – annually reviewed and signed-off.
- Formal job descriptions for the Superintendent and Secretary-Treasurer with regular performance reviews.
- Governance transparency through enhanced information sharing with the public.
- All board business conducted publicly except where confidentiality is required and defensible.
- Post-election board competency assessment to determine trustee gaps in governance related knowledge and skills (including financial expertise), followed by education as needed.
- A positive culture among trustees and constructive relationships with senior staff.
- Effective and documented decision-making processes.
- Yearly board self-review/evaluation
Even if the government does not yet formally require boards to meet the above expectations they represent acknowledged good governance standards of leadership, transparency, integrity, stewardship, and accountability.