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Editorial: Stifling dissent

Why would you do it? Surely, you have better things to do with your time than to prepare for, and to sit through, meetings examining the ins and outs of school board minutiae. Surely, you don’t wait to spend weekend time around a board room table.

Why would you be an elected school board trustee?

When tough decisions like school closures have to be made, you’re going to be a lightning rod for parental discontent. If a local school is closing, it’s the trustee that gets the angry dressing-down in the grocery store and the late-night phone calls.

Why would you do it? There are really only two conceivable answers.

One is that, pragmatically, you see the role as a stepping-stone for higher political office. (That’s probably a minority of candidates.) The other reason? Because you’re a parent or grandparent with deep involvement in the education system, someone who thinks they have something to add to the process of getting students the best education.

That doesn’t make the job any easier; you can practically count on having your professionalism called out by parents of the very children you are trying to help. You can count on having your careful decisions derided as though you’d simply drawn the names of schools to be closed from a hat.

But if it’s not bad enough to bear the brunt of attacks from angry parents when tough decisions have to be made, it must be downright discouraging to be attacked by the province’s minister of education.

Education Minister Dale Kirby, a man who should have plenty of other things to do, decided recently to write the English School Board trustees to complain about one trustee, Jennifer Aspell. Aspell has raised concerns about problems and delays with the extension to the Mobile Central High School.

Minister King apparently didn’t appreciate the concerns, and reminded the chair of the board of trustees about guidelines restricting board trustees from expressing their opinions in public forums. (Aspell had raised the concerns on VOCM’s “Open Line.”)

Frankly, we’d rather hear from trustees about concerns they have than from the minister. As we pointed out, the trustees have little reason to stand for office beyond a genuine interest in public service. They don’t have governments or oversized reputations to protect from bad press, after all.

The equation is a simple one, really.

Either the provincial government wants interested, involved citizens to have a role in delivering education services in the province, or they don’t.

And if they don’t — if what they really want is a rubber stamp or a board of trustees that’s willing to take the heat for government’s decisions — then cut the charade and just run it all out of the minister’s office.

Lecturing trustees on their duty to keep their mouths shut — just so the minister won’t be offended — is bad policy.

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