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BCTF Research Note

A 2022 poll of BC residents found that about half considered school trustees an essential part of BC’s K–12 public education system. Only a third agreed school trustees were effective at representing the public and upholding the rights of BC kids to receive a quality K–12 education.

The poll suggests some British Columbians neither value nor have confidence in the role of elected school trustees. If that is the case, what lies ahead for local school boards? Are there other ways to govern public education without the cost and effort of electing and maintaining them?

Public school boards are a long-standing form of elected democratic representation in Canada. However, the last few decades have seen a trend toward the delegitimization of the local school board as a necessary governing structure. In Nova Scotia, elected trustees have been replaced by government appointed advisory councils. Meanwhile, a move to replace trustees in Manitoba in 2020 was halted after public backlash against proposed legislation.

Like other places in Canada, British Columbia school trustees may well be in danger of losing their longstanding place within our democratic landscape if there is little public understanding or support for their role as stewards and advocates for public education.

Research suggests effective school trustees facilitate public understanding and engagement about what public schools do and how they are funded and managed. That includes encouraging community dialogue and considering the diverse needs and perspectives of community members. Good school board governance, however, must also be based on evidence-informed policy and practice. According to the BC School Trustees’ Association, that involves setting vision, values, strategic planning, and decision making in ways that “look beyond personal issues” to make decisions that will “benefit the school district as a whole.”

As intermediaries between the government and the public, school trustees can’t simply enact on whatever local voters might lobby for. Trustees must uphold the mandates and policy directions established by the Ministry of Education and Child Care. Currently, that includes supporting young people to become critical thinkers, develop compassionate worldviews, acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute to a healthy society, and consider important issues including diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Encouraging robust trustee elections, strong voter turnout and community dialogue are some ways to ensure the school trustee role remains an effective and valued part of BC’s public education system and democratic culture. You can read the full BCTF Research Note here.


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