The following article was published in the Waterloo Region Record
Since 1997 when Ontario school boards lost the power to directly collect local taxes, there is have been periodic debates about abolishing the position of elected school board trustees. Abolitionists favour delegating all policy decision-making to the Ontario government with local management being directly responsible for implementing the decisions of the province.
Recent actions by trustees at the Waterloo Region District School Board and the Toronto District School Board demonstrate why eliminating the local voice provided by trustees would be a mistake. While many small examples exist of the typical representative role that local trustees play in supporting families, the decision by the Waterloo board to require masks to be worn by all students who are able and the Toronto board’s alternative reopening plan provide dramatic examples of the value of local trustees.
This survey was designed to gain insight on various topics from those who live in Waterloo Region. Several academic researchers, Union Sustainable Development Co-operative, and Scaled Purpose have partnered on this project to learn more about region-wide opinions on different topics and will use this data for research in the future. The questions in the survey explored the respondent’s opinions on COVID-19, politics, investing, and affordable housing, just to name a few. A total of 101 individuals completed the survey, thus the results should not be generalized to a population but instead used to demonstrate some areas that warrant further study.
Although there were many topics covered in this survey, there are a few worth highlighting. One of the first questions asked was their age, which was then categorized into age ranges to present the data. The results show that respondents’ age who participated in this survey are heavily weighted in the categories of 50-64 years old and 65+ years old.
The participants to this survey show that they approve of how well both the federal government and provincial government is handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Results show that 39% strongly approve and 46% somewhat approve of how Premier Doug Ford is handing the COVID-19 situation, with only 12% somewhat disapproving and 3% strongly disapproving of the handling of the current situation. Similar results are shown with the approval of how well Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is handling the COVID-19 Pandemic. 40% strongly approve and 44% somewhat approve of his handling of the situation, where only 10% somewhat disapprove and 5% strongly disapprove of his action during the pandemic.
With the recent mandate of mandatory masks in Waterloo Region, it is promising to see that 86% of the surveyors approve of this practice to help reduce transmission of COVID-19. With only 14% opposing this practice, these efforts will continue to help reduce the cases of contracting COVID-19 in the future.
Another important topic worth highlighting is around opinions on affordable housing, both on a regional and provincial level. Most participants agree that the Ontario government should take action in making housing more affordable for renters. This strong consensus in favour of affordable housing will hopefully translate into support for Union Sustainable Development’s planned Community Land Trust in efforts of developing affordable opportunity development co-operatives in Waterloo Region. Union Sustainable Development Co-operative buys and manages multi-unit residential and commercial properties for the environmental, social, and economic benefit of Waterloo Region.
This live-caller survey offers many insights into the perspectives of those who live in Waterloo Region. Although there was a lack of variety in age ranges, these results can show some insight on Waterloo Region opinions on these important topics. In the future, it will be interesting to see if different age groups would slightly change the results of this survey.
It will be interesting to see if those perspectives change over the next year especially since 2020 has been a historic year in which the world and the Region of Waterloo have witnessed a pandemic. Topics such as wearing masks had no bearing on people’s lives last year but will now continue to be an ongoing conversation.
The school board trustee is a locally elected member of the public and advocate for education. While people vaguely know what a school board trustee is, most may not realize the amount of influence that these individuals have in decisions related to schools. Some of the responsibilities of a school board trustee include assisting in the development of the school’s strategic plans, holding the school accountable to its strategic plans, helping to determine the allocation of resources and creating goals for student’s wellbeing and academic achievement.
We collected nine Canadian survey questions from 1993 to 1997 on the topic of school board trustees. The survey questions and corresponding data have been shared on Open ICPSR for those interested in the data. One of the conclusions that can be made based on the collected data, is that the issue of whether to have school board trustees is divisive. For instance, respondents were asked if they think schools should continue to be governed by school board trustees or whether they should be governed by a volunteer or unpaid council of parents and community members who are elected by an annual meeting of local residents? The results of this survey for 1993 and 1995 show that respondents were closely split on this issue
Question: In most places in Canada, schools are governed by school board trustees who are elected by local voters in regularly scheduled elections. Do you think that schools should continue to be governed this way or would you prefer schools to be governed by a volunteer, unpaid council of parents and community members, who are elected in much the same way as ratepayer executives, that is, by those who attend an annual meeting of local residents?
Continue to be governed by elected school trustees
Governed by volunteer, unpaid council of parents and community members
Don’t know/Not applicable
The consistent split between the two years is evidence that there is a number of people who want to continue to have the school board trustee position and a relatively similar number of people who would prefer for schools to have an elected volunteer council made up of parents and community members. The findings from this survey also correlate with a survey question asking the respondents if they feel their school board trustee does a good job or poor job of representing their interests on education issues. The results of this survey were not as equally split but reflect a division amongst people on the issue of school board trustees with 58.9% of respondents saying they do a good job and 41.1% saying they do a poor job.
Like the public servant, the school board trustee is growing increasingly subject to scrutiny, as the public has begun to demand more accountability and transparency. A simple scan of the recent news is evidence of that fact, with multiple school board trustees resigning or being removed from their position for issues such as racial discrimination. As these conversations continue to be had, it will be interesting to see if the issue of whether to have school board trustees continues to be divisive.