The Role Of School Boards Under The Education Act 1996
The Education Act 1996 was passed in order to consolidate and amend the law relating to education within the Bahamas. The administrative structure of the education system under the Act gives the Minister responsibility for the Ministry of education as the head. The Department of Education serves as the Minister’s executory arm. The Director of Education heads the Department of Education and serves as the professional advisor of the Minister. National Advisory Council for Education, serves to make available to the Minister advice on educational matters from the general public and from educational bodies and institutions outside the statutory educational system.
Before we could determine the role of school boards we need to know the primary purpose of schools, as stated in the Education Act. “The purpose is to afford, in so far as the Minister’s resources permit, opportunities to all pupils for education offering the variety of instruction and training desirable in view of their different ages, abilities and aptitudes, and of the different periods for which they may be expected to remain at school, including practical, technical and vocational instruction and training appropriate to their respective needs.” In order to further this purpose section 14 of the Act of 1996 authorised the Minister to establish school boards.
The Minister has power to establish school boards in relation to schools that are maintained by him and school boards, under the Act, have no application to independent schools. Where school boards have not been established, it is incumbent on each Council of a local government district to make provision for the maintenance and upkeep of public school buildings and their environs.
School boards are elected by the parents or guardians of the children attending the particular school. As such, although the legislation is silent ob the issue of any board/parent liaisons, there is the implication that school boards must pay due to regard to the will of the parents.
The qualifications for becoming an elected member of a school board are that: One must be a citizen , One must be at least eighteen years of age. The new legislation is silent on the question of eligibility for membership. Under Cap. 36 (the old legislation) however, a person was ineligible for membership if he is a parent, brother, sister, husband o wife of a member of the staff of the particular school. One member of school boards should not be financially interested in the school. Shall not e remunerated for his services or be financially interested in the supply of work or goods to or for the purpose of the school. This provision exists to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest.
Under the new legislation a consecutive three month period of absence is required for membership to be terminated. Meetings are required at least once per month. These new provisions are an indication that the legislature intends that school boards should have more stringent responsibilities than they previously had. The terms of office of school board members run for a period of three years.
The role of school boards is to oversee the conduct of the school to which they are responsible. It must be kept in mind however that school boards are not autonomous bodies. To that end Article 13 (6) of the Articles of Management provides that: “There shall be full consultation and cooperation between the board and the Department on all matters affecting the school .” The existence of this provision within the Act is necessary because while the Minister who has the ultimate power to superintend, direct and control all primary and secondary education in The Bahamas. The Education Department therefore serves as a safeguard against the possibility of school boards running amok with unbridled power. It is also important to understand that school boards have no absolute right of existence. The Act has ensured that where it is necessary to discontinue institutions such as school boards that the Minister has such authority.
The conduct of schools must be in accordance with the provisions of the Act. By virtue of Section 59 (1) of the 1996 Act monies are allocated to each board for management of the schools. Boards are accountable to the Minister and there are provisions for the auditing of books, accounts and records. The procedure of school boards is governed by the Instrument of Management that is set out in the Act. And the Articles of Management, also set out in the Act, And the Articles of Management, also set out in the Act, make provision for the general administration of the school and for the relations between the Minister, the school board and the principal.
The Articles if Management actually particularise certain matters that are the responsibility of school boards. These matters are: repair and maintenance of school premises; school furniture and equipment; school books and materials; and improvements or extensions to school premises. School boards have a responsibility in each financial year to submit estimates of their requirements in respect of those matters. School boards are also responsible for determining the use to which school premises are put. This determination must however be made in consultation with the principal. Furthermore, there is a statutory obligation Section 5 (1) on the part of school boards to keep a register containing the prescribed particulars with respect to all persons of compulsory age who are pupils at the school.
As was previously said, school boards must represent the will of the parents. This must be done having regard to the provisions of the Act. As a result school boards have a say in the appointment of the Principal. School boards have a right, if they believe that a person isn’t fit for the post of Principal, to state the reasons for its objection to the Education Department. In fact because school boards also are able to submit adverse reports on principals there is an implicit power to effect the transfer of or even the institution of disciplinary proceedings against Principals. School boards also have a say in the appointment of teachers. And with regard to staff other than teachers and clerical workers, these are appointed by school boards after consultation with the principal. It should be noted however that school boards can only act on a majority decision.
By virtue of the Articles of Management the principal controls the conduct, internal organization, management and discipline of the school, the methods of teaching and arrangement of classes. He has supervision over the staff and power to suspend students. But he can only exercise this power in consultation with the school board. So that Article 13 (3) provides: “There shall be full consultation at all times between the principal and the Board.” Article 13 (4) provides: “All major proposals affecting the conduct of the school. Terms of conditions relating to discipline, hygiene, holidays, registration, attendance and examination of public and the internal management and organization of the school, shall be submitted formally by the Principal to the Board for approval before that are put into effect and all major proposals by the Principal affecting the curriculum of the school shall be submitted formally by the Principal to the board for consideration before transmission to the Minister for his consideration.”