By J.W. Schnarr
School divisions are people, too.
September of 2015 will see a new Education Act, including new regulations for how school divisions can deal with issues that come up in the course of the school year. Among those new regulations will be a change in philosophy for how school boards operate, as they will be granted Natural Person Powers in order to give them more autonomy when dealing with issues as they come up.
A “natural person” is considered an actual human being in the eyes of the law, and is legally entitled to do what they want unless the law states that they cannot do something. As an example, Wilco Tymensen, school superintendent, related the act of buying a car for a person with natural person status.
“If you want to buy a car, you are free to go out and buy a car,” said Tymensen. “If you want to drive that car, the law says you need insurance.”
He noted the law makes no mention on a person’s ability to purchase a car, but does have rules on how that car may be used.
Prior to the new Education Act, school boards did not have natural person powers. This means the school board could only take action on things described by the legislation and could not take any action not specifically outlined in their rules. In effect, the opposite of a natural person.
“If the legislation was silent on borrowing money, as an example,” he said. “School boards could not borrow money.”
“It provides way more autonomy for school boards,” said Tymensen. “It provides more flexibility. It gives you way more opportunity.”
“If you made a list of things you were allowed to do versus things you are not permitted to do as a natural person, the list of things you are allowed to do is way bigger,” he added. “The same thing with school boards.”
Tymensen said it’s too early to tell how these changes will affect HSD.
“The question becomes, ‘What do they want to do?’” Tymensen said. “I don’t know. There might be no change in business.” He said the conversion is much like the act of turning 18 and becoming an adult.
“You go to sleep, and you wake up with all these new freedoms, but how has your life really changed?” he asked. “In many ways, this is the same thing.”
“For (HSD), I don’t think there will be a big difference. It’s not something the board has really taken note of.”
He added for some boards, however, the new powers will allow them to take out bank loans, to pay off their budget deficits, and will allow opportunities for schools facing looming belt-tightening from the province.
“Legally, they will now be allowed to borrow money,” said Tymensen. “Before, they couldn’t.”
Some actions allowed by natural persons will still be off limits for the school boards, according to Tymensen. For example, school boards will not be allowed to back specific political candidates or to make donations to political parties.
“Public school divisions can’t publicly support a political candidate,” he said. He noted bringing a single candidate in to speak to students as a “captive audience” would run counter to the goal of providing an open and fair environment for the students. A forum involving a number of members from different parties, however, is something which could be provided to students in order to help them make up their own minds.
“If only one comes, that’s a different story. But we’d need to make sure we follow the jurisdiction policy and invite all of them.”