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Governance and role of school boards uncertain if receive public funds

Written on August 17th, 2007

Local parent-based decision making and teacher input important to Christian schools

The known “strings attached” for faith-based school funding under the Ontario Conservatives plan if they elected are not a problem for high schools but of concern is what changes may occur to the governance structure.

John Van Pelt, principal of Woodland Christian School in Breslau, says like most high schools his offers the OSSD – Ontario Secondary School Diploma – therefore the requirement to meet provincial curriculum is something they already implement.

The other two known strings are to have accredited teachers and participate in standardized testing, which Van Pelt says are also of no concern.

But the Tory’s have not yet stated details on what the governance of faith-based schools that choose to access public funds would look like, and this is an issue, says Van Pelt.

Van Pelt says the school is structured so it is directed by an elected group of parents.

“If we are given full public funding there may be a desire to change that governance model and again, how that all works out would be in the details.”

On July 23, the Conservatives stated they plan to form a Public Education Fairness Implementation Commission to research and provide recommendations for the inclusion of faith-based schools in Ontario’s public school system.

Van Pelt says he assumes the Commission will include opportunities for consultation with various faith-based schools, which are not all governed the same way.

“We’d be very eager to participate in giving some input on what (governance) should look like,” he says.

Peter Bulthuis, principal of Unity Christian High School in Barrie, says he is also worried about the structure school boards will take if faith-based schools are invited under the public system. He adds his school board has not yet discussed the funding.

“The idea of being subsumed into current public or even Catholic board might well compromise our individuality and compromise our independence,” says Bulthuis.

He says the school currently follows Ministry of Education guidelines, as they offer the OSSD, and this does not affect their independence. However, the relationship between public boards and the Ministry of Education is more involved.

Bulthuis says he doesn’t know what would happen with the relationship between the Ontario Teachers’ Federation (OTF) and the Ontario Christian School Teachers Association (OCSTA).

“We have a wonderful connection between our OTF and OCSTA, which I think in the last several years has grown to be a relatively harmonious situation,” he says. “I wonder if we are subsumed into the public boards whether our teacher’s association needs also then (will) be subsumed into the OTF.”

Bulthuis explains the OTF is a much larger association than OCSTA. “We being the tiny fish in a huge ocean might well be swallowed up so the teachers no longer have an important role in helping to set policy for the schools,” he says.