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Municipal districts and counties urge the provincial government to provide school boards with natural person powers in the new School Act

December 1, 2009

Two weeks ago, the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Countries (AAMDC) adopted a resolution supporting school boards at their Annual General Meeting. The resolution, brought forward by the County of Stettler, is essentially the same as the one passed two weeks earlier by the Alberta Urban Municipalities Associations (AUMA). This underscores the general agreement between municipal districts, counties, villages, towns, and cities that school boards are an important form of local government that should remain responsible for local education priorities. Specifically, the resolution states that “local school boards can best deliver education services through increased authority with natural person powers” and urges the province to ensure that school boards receive these powers in new education legislation. (Click here for more information on natural person powers and how they would help school boards serve our communities)

The AAMDC’s support of natural person powers for school boards is a very positive development. Like their urban counterparts, municipal districts and counties have had natural person powers since 1995. These powers have inspired creative approaches to municipal issues and allowed these communities to exercise their full potential. Municipalities want their school board colleagues to enjoy the same opportunities and capacities. After all, both institutions serve the same communities, both institutions hold important community functions, and both institutions are equal partners in the fabric of local government. If natural person powers work well for one half of local government, it only makes sense to extend to them the other half.

The AAMDC is also not the first voice to suggest natural person powers for school boards. We made this recommendation in our School Act review submission to the Minister of Education in September, and numerous school boards and stakeholder groups (including 72% of school superintendents and secretary-treasurers) have echoed this suggestion in their submissions. The Minister and Alberta Education have spent the last month reviewing these submissions and this Friday, stakeholders will be presented with their rough draft of the new School Act. We are hopeful that the desires of Alberta’s school boards, education administrators, cities, towns, villages, municipal districts, and counties will be reflected in this rough draft with some indication that natural person powers will be extended to school boards.

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New Education Act – Sponsoring Municipality: County of Stettler No. 6

WHEREAS the Province of Alberta is undertaking a complete rewrite of the School Act; and

WHEREAS the Province of Alberta is gathering public input into education; and

WHEREAS across the province, municipalities feel that locally elected school boards are an integral part of local governance; and

WHERAS local school boards can best deliver education services through increased authority with natural person powers;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the AAMDC strongly support locally elected school boards and request the province ensure in the new education act that:

  1. School boards have the authority to responsibly undertake local education priorities and
  2. School boards are given natural person powers.

Member Background:

Approximately 30 days ago, Honourable David Hancock, Minister of Education, asked for input on revisions to the School Act. Minister Hancock went on to state that he would like to introduce a revised School Act in the spring session of the Legislature. As the spring session sits before the spring convention of AAMDC, another opportunity for municipalities to support local school boards may not be available if this resolution is not dealt with at the fall convention.

School Boards are an integral part of local governance and their co‐operation with municipalities is essential to the future of our communities. Local school boards need to have the authority to undertake local educational priorities as they see fit. Part of that authority and responsibility lies with school boards having the ability to perform duties similar to those of a municipality through natural person powers. To allow the school boards more statutory flexibility and the opportunity to create new and innovative solutions to localized issues will help the education of our children reach new heights.

The County of Stettler strongly supports the school boards in their pursuit of natural person powers and urges the rest of the AAMDC membership to recognize and assist the important role school boards play in the strength and future of Alberta’s communities.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. stolenfire permalink
    December 1, 2009 2:33 PM

    What other school boards or other boards of trustees in Canada have natural person powers?

  2. psbaa permalink*
    December 2, 2009 11:05 AM

    Stolenfire,

    Thanks for your feedback on the post.

    Over the course of the School Act review process, our Association has conducted a considerable amount of research into natural person powers and municipal corporate bodies. Interestingly, the notion of extending these powers to municipal governments, like school boards and municipalities, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Alberta led the way in 1995. Ontario, Saskatchewan, BC, and the Yukon have followed suit since then.

    As far as school boards are concerned, only British Columbia’s School Act recognizes natural person powers. This places Alberta in a position to once again take a national leadership role in strengthening communities, empowering local governments, and acknowledging the statutory equality between school boards and municipalities that exist in our laws.

  3. a234567 permalink
    December 2, 2009 10:09 PM

    It is interesting to consider why the Government of Alberta extended natural person powers to municipal governments in the ’90s, but not to school boards at the same time. Perhaps the discrimination was based on the fact that the public school boards were suing the provincial government at the time.

    In any case, at the present time (without natural person powers), the operating principle of law for school boards is that they may only do those things which the law specifically (usually, the School Act) allows them to do. When times are uncertain and change is often sudden, this is not a good position for school boards to be in. They can’t innovate until the Government of Alberta has passed legislation recognizing the innovation and allowing it.

    Some people will say the practice is much more flexible than I suggest, and it often is. The problem is that the practice reserves to the provincial government the right to say “you shouldn’t have done that”, after the fact, if they take issue with the outcome.

    I note that the ASBA has also endorsed natural person powers for school boards.

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