Yes, class size and composition are the two most fundamental issues that should be decided upon at the school district level; however, education history in B.C. has shown that issues resolution at that level does not work as expected, according to trustees and the provincial government’s education ministry, which has taken over the purse strings in an ever-tightening fashion since the 1990s.
Taking these two issues out of the hands of locally elected representatives (trustees) had to happen by another group of ‘locally elected representatives’ (MLAs) after what happened between 1972 and 1994, when the overwhelmingly powerful B.C. Teachers’ Federation out-manoeuvred the B.C. School Trustees Association almost at every turn, whipsawing school boards in intra- and inter-regional negotiations, including the mediation and arbitration processes, for their own favour or benefit.
The net result of an exorbitant increase in school district taxes was that the taxpayers, particularly the commercial and industrial sectors, felt it was increasing at a rate that was becoming a fiscal burden to them, especially during the late 1980s.
The recession of the early 1980s, followed by labour code changes in the late 1980s, saw a hither-to-before fractured labour relations process become completely broken and turn into a very adversarial, litigious-based process that has culminated in a now 14-year court challenge that will soon go to the highest court in the country.
The breakdown in the school district-based negotiations by the late 1980s led to the Mike Harcourt-led NDP government invoking provincial bargaining with all the teachers’ associations being represented by the BCTF and all the school districts being represented by the B.C. Public Schools Employers’ Association (BCPSEA.
It is a process that even school trustees favoured so it was really the public’s elected representatives that wanted it taken out of their hands.
So, yes, the public has the ability to express and test its education values as a priority at the ballot box, only it is not the school trustees’ ballot box anymore.
And that is how democracy works now.