What Board Members Need to Know about Governance and Strategy
The Education System
As a shared responsibility of both the Provincial and Federal governments, the sector is led in the province by the Ministry of Education. In fulfilling its responsibility for the education of young people, the Province has delegated local monitoring and guidance to School Boards.
As of writing, there are 28 school divisions in the province. School divisions fall into three categories: public, separate and francophone.
Some Saskatchewan children receive their education outside of the publicly-funded K-12 system. Services outside the publicly-funded system include First Nations Schools, Independent Schools and Home-Schoolers.
Educational organizations that represent various interests within the education system and play important roles in shaping educational policy and practice in Saskatchewan include:
- The Ministry of Education: responsible for Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12 education
- Saskatchewan School Boards Association: a voluntary, non-profit organization that serves boards of education as the voice for publicly funded education in Saskatchewan.
- The Saskatchewan Association of School Business Officials (SASBO): a professional association of certified school business officials.
- The League of Educational Administrators, Directors and Superintendents (LEADS): a professional association of educational administrators who work at the school division level
- Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF): a self-regulating, professional association which provides numerous services to teachers, and a collective bargaining agent which negotiates collective agreement for teachers at the provincial level
The Conceptual Model
Your primary job as a board trustee is not to manage the School Board, but to “govern” it. Governing means directing and controlling – setting the strategic direction of the School Board (through the plan and budget), and then being confident that the School Board is moving in that direction (by monitoring and evaluating results).
Your legal duties are listed in The Education Act, 1995 (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 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.
School boards act on behalf of the citizens they represent and have authority over the school system and its resources. They usually do this by developing policies and monitoring outcomes to determine progress toward desired results and gaining assurance that the school board is headed in the direction that was set. Your key roles:
- 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.
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.
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 young people of the region: there is a “bright line” between the responsibilities of each.
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.
As a trustee you will be required to conduct yourself at all times in a professional manner and to fulfill your fiduciary duty as a board member. That means acting in the best interest of the Board of Education, even when the needs of the board are in conflict with your own needs or desires. This goes beyond simple conflict of interest where financial gain is at stake, but also means you must put the needs of the board ahead of your own political aspirations.
Both the Province and the School Board play roles in setting priorities for the education program and student achievement. The Ministry of Education may define key results and desired student outcomes for the school system. They may also define school system cycles of planning, monitoring and reporting.
What Board Members Need to Know About Governance and Risk
It is said that what gets measured gets done. Creating a strategic plan is just the first stage of achieving results. A plan is merely an intention to act, real action must then take place, and you need to have a way to be confident that these intentions are being realized.
“Risk” deals with the uncertainty of achieving objectives – in the real world, no outcomes are certain! The goal of risk management is to optimize risk, not to minimize risk. For instance, we could eliminate all sports activities at schools to minimize the risk of sports injuries, but that would not serve our students well. Risk taking is the essence of how school boards exist, generate student outcomes and sustain themselves. Without risk taking there would be no innovation, no progress and no advances in student outcomes.
The Director of Education and staff manage risks by identifying, assessing, measuring, mitigating and monitoring them. Beyond this, you, the board, then have three roles in risk—risk direction, oversight and control.
Management reporting provides regular updates for you to assess progress towards objectives, and whether this is within risk tolerances.
The school board is responsible for ensuring a safe and supportive environment for teaching and learning. Because the school board is accountable when things go wrong, it just makes sense that the board will take proactive steps to ensure that schools are safe places to learn and work. School boards need to take a broad perspective. Issues range from air quality and bullying, to establishing a positive work environment, to retaining staff.
The Saskatchewan School Boards Association offers numerous services that help school boards create safe and supportive environments in the schools of their division. These services include a comprehensive insurance program, legal services, an employee benefits program, and support for many aspects of employee relations.
Engaging with the community is an important part of the school board’s job. All community members have a need and a right to know what children are learning and how well they are learning it. They also have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and to participate in discussions about the allocation of education resources in their community.
You (the board) have three main roles when it comes to communications and stakeholder engagement, just as you do with other areas of governance: review and approve the Communications Plan and Policies; monitor effectiveness of the above, to gain reasonable assurance, using periodic and incident reports, dashboard, meetings; and engage when appropriate in public and community consultations.
While public relations are primarily the role of staff, there are times that you will directly engage with members of the public. Should this be necessary, be prepared, honest, clear, calm, alert and proactive.
School Board Members should at all time be aware of the expectations on them to keep confidences—confidences in student information and privacy as well as in board matters. The basic rule of thumb is that all student information is private and must be keep confidential unless you are compelled by law to disclose it. The same is true for board matters. All board information is considered confidential unless there is agreement at the board level to disclose.
What Board Members Need to Know About Governance and Resources
You have a responsibility to gain reasonable confidence (assurance) in the School Board’s financial performance and integrity. The board does this by fulfilling 3 main roles:
- Reviewing and approving financials
- Using financial reports for performance oversight
The Board may establish and delegate to a committee the due diligence work of these: typically an Audit & Finance Committee, or an Audit, Finance & Risk Committee.
The process used to develop the yearly budget begins with identification of board priorities, and makes provision for ongoing monitoring to ensure the desired educational results are being achieved.
The budget reflects the values and beliefs of the school system. It is one of the most powerful tools that a school board has for governing the school system. The board uses the budget and financial plan as a primary tool to achieve the strategic priorities of the School Division.
The Ministry of Education uses September 30 enrolment figures to calculate the amount of provincial grant each School Division will receive, according to pre-set formulae. This information is provided to School Boards as soon as calculations are complete, usually late fall or early winter. Boards actually receive their provincial grant when the provincial budget comes down, usually in March of each year. Sometimes School Divisions have to adjust their preliminary program and budget once they know exactly how much money they will be getting from the Ministry of Education. You may decide to cut back on programs or you may be able to add program components. Final adjustments to the program and budget usually occur in March or April.
Your second role in financial governance (education finance) is to review and approve the financial statements of the School Board. Your purpose in reviewing financial statements and reports is to gain reasonable confidence (assurance) that these are fair, accurate and reliable (have “integrity”.)
The good news is that you do this by reviewing the work of others, especially the auditors, rather than doing the work yourself. Just as with other roles in governance, your role is to oversee, to ask questions, to gain confidence.
Your third role in financial governance (education finance) is using the financial reports for performance oversight. After the financial statements are reviewed and approved, you are the first user of these. Your purpose here is to gain reasonable confidence (assurance) in the financial performance of the School Board, and of management.
You are also using financial reports to be confident in the faithful stewardship of funds, and as an indicator or evidence of ethical conduct. The school board is legally and ethically responsible for all money it collects/receives and spends. Thus, it is important to have systems that ensure funds are spent as planned, accurate records are kept, and the board receives the financial reports it needs.
What Board Members Need to Know About Governance and People
You have two main human resources responsibilities:
- The Director of Education is appointed by, and accountable to, the board; because this is a direct employment relationship, it is sometimes called your “parent” role.
- The other staff, whether teachers or administrative, effectively report through the Director of Education; and so you have an indirect employment relationship – this is your “grandparent” role. You will approach each of these quite differently.
The Board may establish and use a Governance & Human Resources Committee, to assist in oversight of the people side of the School Board. Occasionally these are split into two committees, although to balance workload among board committees, combining them usually makes sense for school boards.
To ensure clarity, the school board should negotiate and put in place an Employment Agreement with the Director of Education to spell out the terms and conditions of employment.
The agreement should provide for an annual written performance appraisal, and specify salary and benefits. It should also provide a process that will allow employment to be terminated by either party in a way that will not reflect negatively on either party.
Drafting an appropriate contract is complicated and has significant implications; you will want to obtain legal advice. Legal Services at the Saskatchewan School Boards Association is available to assist.
Overseeing the Director of Education’s effectiveness is one of your most important and impactful responsibilities on the board, and also one of the most sensitive. You will want to ensure a good Director performance management process is in place. Formal performance reviews should be conducted at least annually, with informal discussions on progress throughout the year, after every board meeting or at least quarterly.
You will get the most out of your relationship with the Director of Education when you:
- Treat your Director with respect – they work tirelessly and are often underappreciated
- Expect great things of your Director – acknowledge them when they are achieved and push them when they are not
- Are open and direct – just like boards, Directors do not like surprises – they want to succeed – their success depends on your oversight role
Your relationship with the Director of Education is a direct employment relationship that calls for the board to manage this. The other staff all report through the Director of Education.
Collective bargaining responsibilities in School Boards are probably different from any other boards that you have served on before. Boards must make decisions ranging from the values that will direct labour relations, to the role that board members will play in bargaining. Different boards take more or less direct involvement in collective bargaining. Certain aspects are negotiated at the provincial level, others at the individual school board level.
Employee benefits are an important part of any employer’s compensation package. Benefits help to attract and retain quality employees. The Saskatchewan School Boards Association offers school system employees a full range of survivor, disability and health benefits. In-service and position-specific training are also available. SSBA also offers a disability management program to its member School Boards.
Board and board Committee mandates (charters, terms of reference) are established by the board, and then updated at the beginning of each governance year (November). These outline the board approved responsibilities and scope of each committee each year.
Based on these, annual work plans are drafted, mapping the responsibilities (and any objectives for this year) with agendas for the regularly scheduled meetings during the year. In this way, the Chairs, members and responsible staff can be confident in how and when each committee and the board will complete its responsibilities for the year.
School boards hold three different types of meetings: business meetings, closed meetings and planning meetings. The Education Act, 1995 requires that school boards carry out their work
in public meetings using formal voting and recorded minutes. The Education Act, 1995 also provides for closed or “in-camera” meetings so boards can deal with topics more appropriately discussed in private. These confidential meetings should be limited to sensitive issues relating to personnel matters, bargaining, or legal action. School boards may meet for planning sessions, sometimes referred to as “committee of the whole board”. During planning sessions, the board may suspend the rules of procedure to engage in informal discussion or to meet with other groups. Voting in meetings must follow procedures prescribed by the Act.