A new educational opportunity is being offered to school board trustees across the province, but not everyone is singing its praises.
Referring to it as a “cash cow,” Saskatchewan Rivers School Division trustee Rodney Thomson is questioning the whole process.
“Our certification as trustees comes from the electorate,” he said. “We’re voted into office, and that is our certification.”
The trustee certification program is an effort of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA), using the University of Regina and University of Saskatchewan-based Johnson-Shoyama School of Public Policy.
“It’s geared toward making you a better trustee … to work together as a board and to ask the right questions,” SSBA president Janet Foord said.
The program is divided into four two-day modules, covering three governance-centred topics, including strategy, risk, people and resources.
The program is of particular importance to those who have been newly elected and those who have been on a school board for a long period of time, Foord said, noting that “like with any industry, the world is changing, and quickly.”
The program is entirely voluntary, Foord clarified.
“We just wanted to be proactive,” she said. “We know it’s being mandated on health boards, so we’re offering this to boards as part of their personal development (and) growth … We should all be willing to improve what we do every day, and we thought this would be a good thing to offer to school boards.”
“Boards have the choice whether it’s in their budgets whether they choose to participate, and at that table, trustees have a choice in whether they participate.”
Each two-day module will cost $895 per trustee, excluding accommodations and suppers -- breakfasts and lunches are included.
Doing some quick math, Thomson is frustrated by this figure’s implications.
Completing the full eight-day program will come at a cost of $7,150 per candidate.
The moneys would better be directed towards the education of students ... I have no faith in it, whatsoever. - Saskatchewan Rivers School Board trustee Rodney Thomson
The first round of sessions will take in 50 candidates, Foord said -- an almost $358,000 cost to taxpayers, Thomson noted.
Multiply that to include the province’s approximate 275 trustees, and the program comes at a cost of almost $2 million. Factoring in hotels, transportation and other expenses, this figure likely exceeds $3 million, he counted.
“The moneys would better be directed towards the education of students,” Thomson wrote in an email correspondence to the SSBA. “By the time trustees are all ‘trained’ by Johnson-Shoyama a new election will be in order and many trustees will not be available.”
On top of that, the implications for the school boards that choose to take part in the trustee certification program aren’t necessarily positive, either, he said.
“If you get two or three on your board who have taken it, and three or five who haven’t taken it, what’s going on here?” he asked. “Who is the person that’s got credibility, and who is the person that doesn’t have credibility? We create an uneven playing field.
“I don’t know where that will lead -- whether it will lead to some sort of class division or whatever … but obviously, not everyone will take it.”
The program is comparable to the ones being mandated on health boards, Foord said, reiterating that in this case, it’s voluntary. It’s going to be offered to trustees in all of the province’s 28 school divisions, with its four modules held in Saskatoon in April, June, September and November.
The Ministry of Education is paying for 50 per cent of the program’s cost.
In all, Thomson said that the program will do “little beyond fattening the wallets of the program deliverers.”
“I have no faith in it, whatsoever.”