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Regional District School Boards to oversee failing local bodies

Published:Tuesday | September 1, 2015 | 9:00 AMGary Spaulding
Ronald Thwaites

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites has suggested that churches and politicians are to blame for arbitrarily appointing board members to public schools that are being given a failing grade for unsound administrative practices.

Thwaites noted that some churches, as well as members of parliament, are empowered under the system to appoint members to the board of school with which they enjoy association.

"Politicians are part of the problem, but the bigger problem is the churches," asserted Thwaites. "Remember that over 40 per cent of our schools are sponsored or built by churches."

He suggested that the failure to appoint persons with the necessary qualities as board members has been hampering best practices.

Thwaites, at a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum, said the ministry was in the process of setting up regional district school boards to address some of the challenges caused by failing school boards.

"Very often, they appoint persons who are loyal church members but not necessarily good school administrators," argued Thwaites. "This is something that we have to work out with them."

Thwaites, a Roman Catholic deacon, stressed that while the ministry, under his watch, had no intention or desire of diluting church heritage, it was not in a position to sacrifice that principle for inefficient school management.

Collaborate with churches

He asserted that there was, therefore, need to collaborate with churches to ensure that the outcomes result from consensus.

Thwaites said that when he went to the education ministry in 2012, it was the common practice for members of parliament to nominate members to the school boards. This, he said, was accepted without question.

"So much so that I got letters from colleagues saying that 'I am naming an individual as chairman of a board' in their constituency," said Thwaites. "I disagreed with that."

Thwaites stressed that members of parliament, as representatives of the people, have a role to play in ensuring that school boards are appointed.

"In addition to that, the regional offices, through the education officer and the principal, is of significance," he said.

Thwaites said that for the past three years, the ministry has been ensuring that appointments are a balance of the views of those individuals.

"We have had one major fallout in St James and we resolved it," he said. "The consensus, I feel, is working. I get complaints and people kick up within Gordon House."

In order to address some of the concerns Thwaites said that the ministry was heading in the direction of regional boards.

"It is unlikely that we can ever find close to 1,000 really competent school boards with the requisite skills," said Thwaites.

He added: "We understand that importance of having local monitoring bodies and there is no intention to abolish school boards but to place them under the authority of a regional district school board.

Thwaites disclosed that such a body would be empowered with the responsibility of allocating staff and sharing resources as well as monitoring the assignment of students within that district.

"They would be empowered to deal with all consequential matters of governance," he said.