Bill 34 was given first reading recently by the BC legislature. If passed, it will introduce major changes in the School Act that will affect school board financing and budgeting, parent involvement in the school system, and the ability of boards to engage in entrepreneurial activities.
The amendments will add section 79.2 which will require school boards to prepare and submit annual accountability contracts with respect to improving student achievement in the school district and any other matter ordered by the minister of Education. The accountability contract must be made available to residents of the school district and parents of students attending district schools.
Currently, the School Act makes provision for the appointment by the provincial cabinet of an “official trustee” to replace the elected trustees in specified circumstances. These include non-compliance with the Act, non-performance of duties and financial jeopardy. These provisions will remain unchanged.
The amendments will add section 171.1 to the Act, giving the minister power to appoint a “special advisor” to a school district for a term determined by the minister. This will allows the minister to become involved in the operation of a school board without the strict pre-conditions for an “official trustee” and without removing or diminishing the powers of the elected trustees.
The special advisor may be required by the minister:
- to review the progress of the board in respect of its accountability contract or to inspect and evaluate any other matters as directed by the minister, or
- to assist the board in the conduct of the affairs of the school district in respect of any educational, financial or community matters,
and must report to the minister accordingly.
Subject to the minister’s approval, the special advisor can retain specialists and consultants to assist him or her. The minister can appoint a deputy special advisor and other employees necessary to carry out the duties of the special advisor.
A special advisor will be entitled to attend any meeting of the board, enter any school board building and inspect any school board records. The school board and its employees will be required by the Act to assist the special advisor in carrying out his or her duties. This obligation would apply to union as well as non-union employees.
School planning councils
The amendments will require school boards to establish a “school planning council” in every school, make it optional on the election of the board for provincial resource programs.
Each council will have five members of whom three are parents of students enrolled in the school who have been elected for a one year term by the parents’ advisory council as its representatives. One of the three parents must also be an elected officer of the parents’ advisory council. The other members are the principal of the school, and a teacher elected for a one year term by secret ballot of the teachers who teach at the school. In the event that there is no parents’ advisory committee in a school, or a parent or teacher is not elected, the school board is given the power to make an appointment to the council
School boards will be obligated to consult with school planning councils on educational services and educational programs in the school, the allocation of staff and resources in the school, and matters contained in the school board’s accountability contract relating to the school.
In addition, the amendments will require school plans for every school in each school year. School plans are plans for improving student achievement and other matters contained in the school board’s accountability contract relating to that school. These plans must be prepared by the school planning council in consultation with the parents’ advisory council and approved by the school board.
School boards are given significant powers in the approval process. They are entitled to consult with the school planning council during the approval process, and may direct the school planning council to modify part or all of a school plan by a specified date. The school board retains the power to reject the school plan and may do so if the school planning council does not comply with a direction to modify part or all of it.
The school board can direct the principal of a school to prepare the school plan if the plan submitted by the school planning council is rejected, or if the council fails to submit one by a specified date or to modify the plan as directed by the board.
Parents’ advisory councils
Parents’ advisory councils will be required to make bylaws in consultation with the school principal governing their meetings, their business and the conduct of their affairs. They also will be required to make bylaws governing their election of members to the school planning council and their representative to the district parent’s advisory council. Such elections must be by secret ballot.
Parents’ advisory councils will have the statutory right to advise the school board, and the principal and staff of the school on any matter relating to the school other than those assigned to the school planning council. They may assist the school planning council in carrying out the council’s statutory functions if requested to do so by the council.
The amendments will require a school board to establish a district parent’s advisory councils at the request of a parents’ advisory council in the district. They also stipulate membership and governance of district parent’s advisory councils. Each parents’ advisory council may elect one of its members each year to be its representative on the district parent’s advisory councils. A district parent’s advisory councils must make bylaws governing their meetings, business and conduct of their affairs.
The superintendent or designate, or a trustee will be entitled to attend any meeting of the district parent’s advisory council.
Transitional provisions allow the continuation of district parent’s advisory councils currently in existence.
Choice of school
The amendments give parents the right to have their children attend any school in any school district. That right is subject to some conditions. Firstly, there must be space and facilities available with availability to be determined by the school board. Secondly, available space in a school will be allocated in priority order.
The amendments create definitions for a “catchment area child,” a “non-catchment area child” (who resides in the same school district) and a “non-school district child.” A school board may establish different deadlines for filing of applications for enrolment for each of these categories. Priority for available space in a school is given first to catchment area children who attended the school the previous year, then to other catchment area children, non-catchment area children (same district) and non-school district children, in that order. Ties within a category are resolved by the order in which the applications for enrolment were received.
The amendments significantly expand the nature of contracts that school boards are authorized to make. Previously, a school board could enter into contracts:
- to purchase managerial or other services with respect to the operation of schools in the district;
- to purchase educational services that will be under the general supervision of an employee of the board who is a member of the College of Teachers;
- concerning the promotion, development or operation of recreational and community services.
Under the amended section 86(1), the first of those categories of contracts is expanded to enable school boar
ds to provide as well as purchase managerial, administrative or other services with respect to the operation of schools in any district. This will give school boards the statutory authority to sell services to each other.
School board companies
The amendments will authorize school boards to engage in education related entrepreneurial activity, and provide the means to do this through separate limited liability corporations that protect school board funds and assets.
Bill 34 adds as Part 6.1 to the School Act extensive provisions permitting school boards to incorporate companies to engage in entrepreneurial enterprises for profit. While such companies largely resemble normal private sector corporations, the application of the Company Act is modified by a regulatory scheme under Part 6.1 of the School Act.
Part 6.1 authorizes a school board may incorporate a company under the Company Act. The company’s sole member is the school board and its authorized capital is one common voting share without par value issued to the school board upon incorporation.
The Company must be called “School District No. X Business Company” (“X” being the district number of the incorporating school board) or the equivalent in the case of a francophone education authority. It must have three or more directors of which at least one must be the Secretary-Treasurer or a trustee of the school board.
One of the most important features of the amendments is the protection of public funds in school board hands. School boards will be prohibited from lending or otherwise providing money to a school board company from grants made under the Act. They also cannot transfer property or services to a school board company in exchange for shares or any consideration that is of less than fair market value for the property or services unless authorized by the minister.
School boards will be prohibited from giving an indemnity to or for the benefit of the company, or guaranteeing the performance of the company. A Board is not liable for an indemnity or guarantee given in contravention of this statutory prohibition.
A school board company is prohibited from issuing a diploma without authorization from the Minister of Education.
A school board may have only one such company at a time and may not sell or otherwise dispose of its interest in the company. However, the amendments provide for conversion of such companies into regular companies under the Company Act. Conversion requires both a special resolution of the school board and is subject cabinet consent and any conditions imposed by the cabinet.
Once a company is converted, the school board may sell part or all of its interest in the company, and may incorporate another company under the new School Act provisions.
School board finances
Bill 34 will introduce substantial changes to the way in which school boards are funded and their budgeting process.
The current funding structure requires the minister to establish preliminary provincial funding and final provincial funding. Under the new structure, the minister will make a single determination of provincial funding by February 1 before each fiscal year.
School boards will be required to submit an enrolment to the minister by February 15. The minister will have authority to substitute his or her own estimate for that of the school board.
The minister will determine the operating grant allocated to each board based largely on a per student formula, but the minister has broad discretion to establish additional formulas and to establish categories of students for the purpose of calculating grants. Additional formulas are to be announced by the minister on or before March 15.
The minister also will be authorized to provide directions to a board in respect of part of the operating grant. In particular, the minister may specify that a specific part or percentage of the grant is a targeted grant and may set conditions on how it is spent.
The school board budgeting process will be substantially affected. Currently, school boards must adopt a preliminary budget by April 27 before a fiscal year, and a final budget by February 28 of the fiscal year. This will be replaced by a requirement to adopt an annual budget on or before June 30 before each fiscal year.
The minister will have authority to amend the operating grant, especially where enrolment varies from the estimate used by the minister in calculating the operating grant. When its operating grant is amended, a school board will have authority to amend its budget, and may be required to do so by the minister.
Other amendments modify the regulation of school board accounting practices.
The term “administrative officer” will be removed from the Act and replaced by “principal, vice principal or director of instruction.”