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Letter from NSSBA President Sue Ritchie regarding the Auditor General's report

School boards working to improve governance

School boards across the province were watching and waiting for the Auditor General to release his report on Halifax, Strait and Chignecto-Central Regional School Boards. While the audit focused on these three boards, everyone knew the recommendations would have implications for all eight school boards in Nova Scotia. As the organization that serves governing school boards, the Nova Scotia School Boards Association was also anxious to see the results of the audits.

The NSSBA has been representing school boards since 1954, and has seen significant change over the years. What has not changed is the dedication of school board members to support students. The role of the NSSBA is to support governing school boards across the province, and provide them with professional development and services to allow them to do their jobs. Governing school board members are tasked with an enormous amount of responsibility and accountability, and the learning curve for new members can be steep. We know this, and we are working to provide the support needed.

The audit included both governing board and regional staff practices. It is important to note the difference in the roles of these two. Governing school boards are elected or appointed members who govern and oversee the delivery of public education in their systems. They review and approve annual budgets, create policies to support programming and services for students, and work to represent the public. Every board member works with the best interests of their entire school system in mind, and with a constantly evolving landscape, the need for boards as an oversight body is incredibly important.

The Auditor General recognized the three governing school boards as receiving good information from management. The volume of information provided to school board members from staff is significant, and it is very important as it informs the governing board on the effectiveness of the system. There is work to be done in terms of some of the information that is required of the superintendent and the NSSBA is committed to working with school boards on this.

The Tri-County Regional School Board audit offered recommendations to their governing school board, which the NSSBA has taken into consideration when developing tools and supports for all school boards. With the release of the latest audit and recommendations, we see that the school boards, the province and the NSSBA are on the same page. Like the schools for which they are responsible, governing school boards follow an improvement process that uses feedback on performance to inform goals and improvements in service to students. The recommendations from the audits provide important performance information.

Recently, the NSSBA offered a professional development session with a focus on school board self-assessment. School board members from across the province attending this event where the NSSBA introduced tools for governing board self-assessment, and legislation self-assessment. The first tool supports governing school board members in assessing their practices, while the second is specific to their understanding of legislation. This work directly supports one of the main recommendations from the Auditor General for self-assessment.

The NSSBA has a productive working relationship with the Minster of Education and Early Childhood Development, and fully accepts its obligation to support school boards in a manner that meets the needs of students. With the evolution of the public education system, and the face of governing school boards, there is need for clarity of roles and responsibilities. We are working on behalf of governing school boards and with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to improve understanding and interpretation of the Education Act. It is important that we all have a clear understanding of expectations and responsibilities.

School boards are responsible to all Nova Scotians and accountable to the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development. A shared dedication to developing and maintaining the best education system possible for all students includes an open and receptive approach to critical feedback on areas for improvement.

The NSSBA looks forward to continued collaboration in support of governing school boards.

Sue Ritchie, President

Nova Scotia School Boards Association