Addressing the democratic deficit at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board should be a top priority this municipal election. Meaningful public input and consultation is a basic expectation for parents, students and residents, but for inexplicable reasons the board has not met this basic expectation.
A major example was the closure of Rideau High School last year. Under the closure process adopted by the board of trustees, there was a lack of full dialogue with the local community.
Consultations that did occur happened as administrative staff made transition plans to close the school. Many who participated said that the process was stage-managed. The surrounding community, which has some of the highest poverty and high-school dropout rates in the city, was asked to use an online consultation tool. The community association that sat directly in the school’s catchment area was effectively locked out from providing meaningful input during the closure process until the end, relegated to a three-minute statement in front of the board just before the board voted for closure.
Many residents I have talked with found this lack of proper consultation appalling, since the school board is supposedly a democratic body that spends nearly $1 billion annually. While unpopular decisions are often common in our democratic system, a key component that grants the system and those decisions their legitimacy is meaningful public consultation. Unfortunately, the current board of trustees has a tendency to shun consultation.
Most recently, the board appointed an extremely inspired choice as its new director of education. Many in Ottawa are looking forward to her installation due to her commitment to equity, transparency and social mobility. Unfortunately, trustees decided to appoint the new director before the election, effectively curtailing any input and deliberation by incoming trustees under a new mandate.
As well, during this campaign, some sitting trustees have refused to answer questions from both ratepayers and educational interest groups about teacher work conditions and curriculum innovation.
In a democracy, accountability requires both answering tough questions and listening to constituents. When you cast your vote this election, please consider whether your sitting trustee has actually listened to your community in good faith before making decisions that impacted the entire school district, as well as your children.
Rawlson King is a candidate for Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustee in Zone 12, Innes/Beacon Hill–Cyrville.