Your legal duties are listed in The Education Act: (in short) to administer and manage the educational affairs of the school division, and to exercise general supervision and control over the schools – through bylaws and resolutions.
In practice, the board of trustees governs (supervise and control) and the Director of Education administers and manages (delegated to and monitored by the board of trustees).
Your main roles, and steps you can expect to take to fulfill these, are:
Leadership in Setting Direction: School boards lead community, school and school division staff, and students in shaping the future of education in the community by setting the direction. This requires leadership and planning. Planning includes establishing a compelling vision, mission, and statement of values or principles to guide school system policy and operations. Strategic planning is an essential tool for school board leadership. The key roles of the board in setting the strategic direction of the School Board, are to:
- review and approve the strategic plan;
- hire the Director of Education, delegate authority and manage this relationship;
- set the risk appetite and approve policies to guide staff; and
- review and approve resourcing largely through the annual budget.
Stewardship through Control: Stewardship is about overseeing the operation of the school system. School boards act on behalf of the citizens they represent and have authority over the school system and its resources. School boards govern by defining the processes they will use to govern and identifying the desired results for Saskatchewan students. They usually do this by developing policies and monitoring processes to determine progress toward desired results. This means gaining reasonable assurance that the organization is moving in this direction (it’s “in control”). The key roles of the board in gaining this assurance are to:
- monitor and report on the performance of the School Board;
- monitor and evaluate the performance of the Director of Education, and of the board itself;
- oversee risk management, including compliance with policies; and
- review and approve the financial reports and audit.
Relationships through Culture: Beyond your core governance (legal) roles of leadership and stewardship, School Board members are expected to engage with key stakeholders, ensuring that the institution has effective connections with all those who have a stake in the effective education and well-being of children and youth. You are to:
- empower the Director of Education and build a strong and productive relationship with her/him. Most of the work of school boards is accomplished through relationships with staff including the Director of Education, principals, teachers, and support staff.
- maintain strong relationships with the communities you represent in order to reflect the communities’ spirit and values;
- ensure the school board engaged with and has effective relationships with other agencies that serve children and youth. Communication with and listening to all of these groups and individuals is important to the effective operation of the school system.
The Bright Line
The board draws “a bright line” between its responsibilities and those of the Director of Education and management team.
While the board focuses on these, the Director of Education and their staff perform the actual day-to-day work of providing a quality education to the youth of the region: there is a “bright line” between the responsibilities of each.
The work of the board and the Director of Education is integrative. They are partners collaborating in achieving the School Board’s mission, vision, goals and objectives by each doing what they are uniquely equipped to do, and respecting each other’s potential to excel.
In order to provide effective oversight most boards rely on the work of committees to provide diligence on specific areas of organizational concern. There is a spectrum of approaches to the right number and type of committees used so each school board and board needs to find the right balance. Too many committees and the board risks crossing the line into operations and doing the work of staff. Too few committees and the board risks burdening the board of trustees with too much diligence work, or worse missing key oversight responsibilities.
Often, boards use a small number of standing committees that usually focus on oversight: monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the school board’s performance and Director. The two most common standing committees are the Audit & Finance Committee, and Governance & Human Resources Committee. Their functions are described in the supplemental material for this Board Roles and Responsibilities (SUPLIMENTAL MATERIAL LINK).
There may also be times when special purpose committees, sometimes called ah hoc committees are desired to provide short term diligence on important board matters. For example, a Transportation Committee might be struck if a long term contract is up for renewal. Care should be taken to ensure the work of any committee is at the right level, and that it does not interfere or duplicate the work of staff.
The School Board Chair
The chairperson plays a key role in the operation of the school board. The chair sets the tone and climate for the meeting through fair, reasonable and impartial treatment of all board members. The chair keeps the meeting moving along and ensures that all important issues are addressed.
The school board chairperson fulfills several roles. These roles include:
- Leader or captain of the board
- Organizer of effective meetings
- Spokesperson for the board
- Leader in policy setting
- Facilitator of problem solving and discussion
Selecting the Chair
The Education Act, 1995 specifies that the board must hold an organizational meeting following elections and annually to select a chairperson and vice-chairperson. However, the Act does not specify the method that is to be used to select the chair.
Selection of an effective chair is essential for productive meetings and the success of the board. School boards are encouraged to discuss the characteristics of an effective chair and to base their selection on who could best lead the board’s work, based on their skills, abilities and experience.
Selection of the chair should be confirmed by an approved motion.
Becoming a Better Board Chair
Most people are not born with the innate ability to chair a meeting. It is a skill that can be learned through study, observation and practice. Some ideas for building the skills needed to be a good board chair include:
- Participate in SSBA and other seminars and courses. SSBA Module 12 focuses on the role of school board chair and provides information and opportunities for discussion and analysis of real-life situations. Seminars and courses teach leadership, listening, conflict resolution, public speaking, media relations, and organizational skills. School board chairpersons are required to use all of these skills at various times.
- Observe other people who are effective chairpersons. How do they demonstrate leadership? What do they do to keep meetings moving along? How do they deal with differences of opinion or conflicts among board members? How do they deal with the media?
- Read books and articles relating to the role of board chair. Numerous publications on this topic exist. Although not all publications are targeted specifically at school board chairs, many of the skills needed to be a good board chair are fairly generic and apply to virtually any type of board chair.
Supplemental Information on Roles and Responsibilities : Please refer to the supplemental tools and examples that will help you with your board role. (SUPLIMENTAL MATERIAL LINK)
The Legal Framework for School Board Governance
Every board’s – and board member’s – powers, duties, accountabilities and liabilities are set out in law. At the top of this legal hierarchy are Acts passed by legislatures, then Regulations approved by Ministers, and then Board-approved Policies.Locally elected Boards of Education are an important part of the democratic process that provide a connection between the community and the education system. This connection helps local boards guide the direction of resources in a manner that will best suit the communities they serve. They also provide a valuable outlet for parents to connect with the system in a more meaningful way.
In Canada, the Constitution Act of 1867 (formerly called the British North America Act, 1867) gives the provinces responsibility for making laws regarding Kindergarten to Grade 12 education.
The Province of Saskatchewan, in fulfilling its responsibility for the education of young people, has delegated much of that responsibility to school boards – a form of local government created by the province.
This is how the legal framework applies to K-12 education in Saskatchewan:
Constitutional Basis of School Board Authority
The Legislative Framework for K-12 Education in Saskatchewan
The Education Act
The most important Act governing School Boards is The Education Act, 1995. This Act, and regulations, provide a detailed framework for Kindergarten to Grade 12 education in Saskatchewan. The Act:
- describes the authority and obligations of the Minster of Learning, school boards, and conseils scolaires;
- sets out duties of senior administrators, principals, and teachers;
- describes processes that occur within the education system such as organization and management of schools, school closure, hiring and termination of teachers, school finance, and collective bargaining with teachers;
- defines the students whom the education system serves: “every person who has attained the age of six years, but has not attained the age of 22 years, has the right to a public education.”
- says that school boards may “co-operate in, participate in or facilitate the co-ordination, administration or provision of educational programs for children who are not yet eligible to be enrolled in Kindergarten …” Many school boards co-operate with other agencies to offer prekindergarten and similar programs for children younger than six.
School boards oversee operations of the school division and ensure the school division is successful: you have a responsibility to create an environment within the division that facilitates teaching and learning, because such an environment will result in better student outcomes. You have a responsibility to “administer and manage the educational affairs of the school division” in a manner that promotes success for all students and makes schooling a productive and positive experience for all students.
School boards have both duties and powers.
Duties are obligations the board must fulfill. In The Education Act, 1995, duties are identified by the phrase, “a board of education shall”. Section 85 of the Act describes the duties of school boards and other duties are also implied throughout the Act. Some of the more important duties of the school board are:
- to hire and direct the director of education
- to approve the budget
- to approve the program of studies
- to determine the facility plans
- to appoint qualified teachers
The Act also confers powers on school boards to enable them to fulfill their duties. In The Education Act, 1995, powers are identified by the phrase, “a board of education may”. Section 87 of the Act describes the powers of school boards. Some of the more important powers are:
- employing ancillary staff
- entering into agreements with other school boards, the conseil scolaire, or First Nations
- providing scholarships and bursaries
- acquiring vehicles for student transportation
The School Board is a Corporate Body
The school board is a corporate entity with defined duties and powers: We treat corporations as a person under the law for practical reasons. Because the school board is a corporate entity, it can enter into contracts with individuals, businesses and other organizations; it can buy and sell buildings, equipment and supplies; and it can be sued or sue others.
But of course corporations aren’t really persons at all. They are treated as if they are persons, but they have no mind of their own.
That’s the board’s role.
The board is the “directing mind of the body corporate”.
The school board must ensure that the school system operates within statutory requirements: Because school boards are corporations created by an Act of the legislature, they have only those powers which the legislature has provided. A school board that attempts to do something which exceeds its authority under The Education Act, 1995 has created the potential for legal liabilities. If a school board spends money for purposes which exceed the board’s legal authority, individual board members can be held liable. If you are unsure about whether a particular course of action is within a school board’s legal authority get a legal opinion.
The Education Act, 1995 also governs other aspects of school board’s operations. For example, it defines the school board’s responsibility for the education program, outlines meeting procedures, and specifies some financial requirements. Relevant sections of The Education Act, 1995 are discussed throughout this Handbook.
Governing in a Changing World
A changing world has implications for education: Major changes are occurring in Saskatchewan and the world. Many of these changes have implications for school boards. Several of the most significant changes are listed below. Each of these changes can represent both an opportunity and a challenge for school boards.
- Most jobs today require a minimum of Grade 12 graduation and/or specialized skills training. Most unskilled jobs are in the service sector where pay is low and hours irregular.
- School enrolments are declining in rural areas of the province.
- People are moving to the cities – city populations are growing; rural populations are declining.
- Rural demographics are changing. Smaller centres are losing population and businesses and services are becoming concentrated in larger towns and cities.
- There are teacher shortages in specialized areas like math and science.
- Technology is playing an increasingly important role in education and in society as a whole.
- The percentage of Aboriginal children is growing. At the same time, the school success rate for Aboriginal children is unacceptably low.
- Saskatchewan is already experiencing a skills shortage in the trades and there will be a major skills shortage in many fields in the years ahead as baby boomers retire.
When addressing both the opportunities and the challenges created by current changes and trends, school boards don’t work in isolation. School boards are the only group legally mandated to govern K-12 education, but they work in concert with the entire community.
- Parents have a strong interest in their children’s education, and research has shown that when parents are interested and involved in their children’s education, the children do better at school.
- Other agencies that serve children and their families have a strong commitment to children’s well-being and work collaboratively with the school.
- Employers depend on the schools to develop an educated, technologically literate workforce.
- The community as a whole knows that schools have an important role in creating productive citizens who can contribute to their families and their communities.