Trustees—Not in It for the Pay!
Heartfelt congratulations to all trustees as you start out on your 2014-18 term of office. No other elected officials are so focused in their mandate nor so unequivocal about the singular, though comprehensive, calling to make a concrete difference in the educational and life opportunities of Ontario’s students. No education critic, prophet or organization is more accountable to the voting public than we are as trustees. You are here because you believe that public education is a foundational component of our societal values. You believe that a school trustee is called to be an effective and passionate champion for your community.
These are inspiring times and challenging times. The vision and commitment to serve that brought you to the role will have a full workout in the next four years.
The government has recently released a renewed vision for education. This vision grew out of the ideas of a great many passionate people, not least among them the trustees of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association. We called for a primary place for student well-being, for a focus on higher-order skills to equip our young people for a global, connected world and for increased equity of opportunity for all students. You will see all these in A Vision for Learning & Teaching in a Digital Age, and you are the leaders who will take a key role in making that vision a reality.
As trustees we also have the challenge of representing our boards in the world of collective bargaining. Your association-OPSBA-is the legislated bargaining agent working on your behalf to achieve collective agreements with all school board employee groups. We know that the fiscal environment in which we are governing is a tough one, and we do not underestimate the difficulties. However, we need collective agreements that balance employee rights with working conditions that promote improved student achievement, learning and well-being. That is the goal that is respectful of everyone who works and learns in our schools, and that is the goal we are working towards.
Sustaining the ideals and enthusiasm that inspired us to take up this role will require energy and dedication. Financial compensation will certainly not be our driver. OPSBA worked diligently and creatively on promoting the role of trustee as we approached the 2014 municipal elections, articulating the far-reaching and complex work we do. While we as trustees bring our hearts to our work, we also live in a world where the value of one’s contributions is linked to how one is compensated. It is reasonable to expect that there will be recognition and respect for our governance work, which is so directly connected to the education of our children and youth. Trustees have not seen an increase in their honorarium since 2006. The most recent government announcement of continued restraint in trustee compensation across Ontario would mean a static honorarium for a total of 12 years. In the overall context of governance at various levels in Ontario, this represents inherent unfairness, and OPSBA will continue to be the voice demanding fairness, recognition and respect for trustees. We know first-hand how much you give to your role every day.
How do we sustain our inspiration? What is our intrinsic motivation? This is what I see.
- I have crossed this province and have seen the effective advocacy and success of trustees on behalf of their communities. I have seen local decisions and programs that would not have been possible without the leadership of trustees.
- Trustees are the voice of their community. We do not want a centralized response to education that does not take into account local differences. Census data are not enough to represent the complexity of a community; you have to be on the ground.
- We are of the community. We live, we play and usually we work in our communities. We know it in our bones. Queen’s Park is a long way from Espanola, and a voice, however strong, can get muffled and lost over a thousand kilometres.
- We have legislated responsibility for the academic achievement and well-being of our children; we have legislated authority for bargaining with our staff; we have saved millions of dollars in education through copyright challenges, through cooperative buying and other consortia; we are accountable and responsible.
- We are ombudsmen for our community. We are the voice for those without voice; we are the voice of equity, navigating parents through a complex system.
- We are futurists. Whether in our advocacy of the use of technology, in supporting a greater voice for our students, in demanding fairness for First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, or in leading mental health awareness, to name just a few concerns, we understand that what we do today will impact our communities over a lifetime.
- And lastly, we are passionate. We are passionate about reaching out to all of our communities; we are passionate about equity for all those who contribute inside and outside the classroom; we are passionate about ensuring that the voice and the needs of our children are being heard; we are passionate about reform and visioning and results. We are passionate about our responsibilities and contributions despite any sense of compensation.
To those who have served, and to those who have renewed their commitment to serve again, and especially to those who are stepping forward for the first time to serve, know this. I recognize that you have taken up this work because the children, youth and families in your communities across the province deserve your best, and, unselfishly, you will give it. I also recognize that your contribution and your passion merit fairness in return, and OPSBA will be the strong voice of advocacy on this front. You are daily creating the conditions for the kind of results that have built a world-class education system in the province of Ontario, and I am proud to count myself a member of this group of committed and inspiring leaders.