Education Minister Jamie Muir has issued Halifax Regional School Board with ministerial directives aimed at forcing feuding board members to get back to the business of educating students.
He also warned board members he is prepared to replace them if they do not move quickly to restore public confidence.
“I share the frustration of many parents who have written to me expressing their concern regarding recent behaviour of the board and the impact it is having on staff and students,” the minister wrote in a letter delivered to the board Tuesday night, Feb. 28.
“I believe it is important for board members to realize the seriousness of the situation and the risk to which they are putting the proper functioning of the board,” Mr. Muir said.
The elected board, the province’s largest, has been wracked by internal division for months. Meetings ground to a halt in January and February after disgruntled board members walked out, leaving important agenda items undecided. Board members have also been embroiled in a dispute over seating arrangements.
One board member is facing conflict of interest allegations. Another was voted off the board last week after missing three consecutive meetings, a violation of the Education Act.
Mr. Muir said he wants to see a more professional attitude from the board within the month.
“Failure to comply will cause me to exercise Section 68 of the Education Act,” he said.
Section 68 gives the minister the power to dissolve a school board and appoint a person to take over operational authority of the organization.
Deputy minister Dennis Cochrane presented the board with the directives, which will now be part of the board’s performance standards. The directives must be adopted by the board by March 31. The key directives include:
— The board is to establish a seating plan based on random selection, and the members must remain in those seats for all regular and special meetings until their term of office expires;
— No board member may depart a meeting without informing the chair or board secretary before the start of the meeting, or unless they receive approval by board resolution;
— Members who leave a meeting without permission will be counted absent without reasonable excuse, and their absence will not affect the quorum;
— Board members must re-affirm and observe the board’s code of ethics, requiring members to show respect for others, as well as respect for decisions made by a majority of board members.
Mr. Cochrane said the new ministerial directives must be adopted and implemented no later than March 31.
“Board members have a duty to the people who elected them to act professionally; but, most importantly, they have a duty to the students,” he said.
The department, in consultation with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, has also postponed a mediation session with the board until members can demonstrate they are ready to work together.