The OCDSB’s big challenges

The next four years promise to be an interesting time for the new School Board. There are some new Trustees in the seats as some were either defeated in the past election or chose not to run again. And this change in composition may herald a shift in influence and direction at the Board table.

What comes out of the inaugural meeting on December 1st will tell me a lot about the direction that we can expect this Board to take. This is the meeting where the Chair and Co-Chair is elected by the Trustees. The same goes for the Chairs of the various Board Committees. The choice of the Chairs is an important decision as they can control and direct debate on issues at the table and are arguably the most influential players when it comes to local education decision-making.

One person who quite impressed me in the way she managed the few meetings I have attended was the current Chair, Cathy Curry. Speaking from experience, it is quite a challenge to manage a group with differing and often conflicting agendas. She does this admirably and should be credited for this.

But, I think that the majority of Trustees on this new Board may want a change of direction and we’ll see a few changes in who is occupying most of the Chairs (musical Chairs? :)).

So. In this context, what are the challenges for this Board over the next 4 years? Here is my short list.

1. Full integration of the new Early Learning program into the Board’s schools. Already, some Boards are balking at the instructions that the Ministry of Education are issuing. Peel Board, for example, has scaled back the number of new Early Learning programs due to an absence of adequate funding flowing from the Province. It will be interesting to see how Queen’s Park replies as more Boards realize they simply do not have the resources to offer these programs at the level the Province is demanding while at the same time keeping the Boards” budgets balanced..

It is important that the OCDSB engage the existing pre-school education community in Ottawa. From what I have heard, there has been little or no consultation in the past when it came to decisions that directly impacted the non-Board pre-school community. We are all part of the broader Ottawa education “community”! Let’s work together more closely to try and address the issues raised by the early education community in the context of Board constraints and Provincial edicts.

2. Funding shortfalls. The Board, like others in the Province, is going to have to get creative about how they will manage funding shortfalls and demands for new or enhanced programs – or simply the preservation of existing programs. And I suspect that this particular Board is going to have a very, very difficult time prioritizing directions.

At a minimum, I suggest the following:

a) Look at new revenue sources instead of always searching for areas to be cut. Generating energy by using solar panels – a new initiative by the Board – is a good idea. And I am sure there are more good ideas in our communities. Go and ask them.
b) Work with local communities and businesses to find synergies that can be used to preserve and enhance program delivery.
c) Actively and forcefully lobby the Province to re-visit the need for two separate school systems. Many of the under funding issues that are due to declining enrollment and aging infrastructure could be addressed by merging the separate with the public school systems.
d) Realizing that 3 above will not happen overnight, continue to look for ways that the two Boards – along with the two French language Boards – can use common facilities, resources, etc.

3) English versus French language demand. I addressed this a couple of posts back and I re-emphasize it here. I do think it is vital to offer a comprehensive English language program to whoever demands it – although this may result in some students having to change schools due to supply / demand dynamics.

The only way to intelligently analyse where the demand for both programs exists and what is driving this demand is to carefully research these questions using scientific methods and an unbiased analytical framework. This is very important and such an initiative should be discussed at the Board table at the same time as discussion about the strategic plan.

4) Maintaining relevance in the community. I am not going to expand on this too much because I talked about it over the course of the campaign. But suffice it to say that if issues around communication, responsiveness and transparency are not addressed, then the Board will find it increasingly difficult to get support from the community when the Province (not “if”, but “when”) takes more decision making powers from the local level.

Well, those are the “broad brush” issues as I see them. Over the next 4 years, I will be checking in on these issues from time to time to see if the current Board is up to the task of tackling them intelligently and creatively.

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