Values and Interests: Conflicts and Challenges for Saskatchewan Trustees
By Keith D. Walker
SSTA Research Centre Report #96-09: 53 pages, $14.
 
Introduction As Saskatchewan School Trustees chart the future courses of their respective school divisions what are the pressures, concerns, and worries that confront individual trustees? What are some of the philosophies, perspectives, and values that direct these elected officials in their guardianship of the public trust for education and assist them to mediate their conflicts of interests? Dr. Keith Walker was provided with a SSTA research grant to survey school trustees on these questions. The study provides benchmark descriptions of the specific problems and pressures that trustees encounter in the performance of their Board duties. This comprehensive inventory of trustee wrestlings and ideals profiles the issues at work in the lives of a random sample of school trustees (n=130).
Study Design & Methodology
Trustee Demographics
School Division Information
General Stewardship of School Divisions
Problems Faced By Trustees
Greatest Challenge For Trustees
Trustee Worries
Ethical Challenge
Philosophies of Education
General Work Perspectives of Trustees
Trustee Stress Level
General Ethical Perspectives
Summary of Report
Concluding Comments
  Back to: Governance

The SSTA Research Centre grants permission to reproduce up to three copies of each report for personal use. Each copy must acknowledge the author and the SSTA Research Centre as the source. A complete and authorized copy of each report is available from the SSTA Research Centre.
The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.


Introduction

The judicial role of trustees has become more and more preeminent as serious value and interest mediation takes place within each of the province's school divisions. The experience of shifts and challenges in the ways and means for conveying educational programs and services is well rehearsed in every Board meeting and informal discussion of trustees. The ethical wrestlings of board members and trustees are brought to the place of first or preliminary description in this report. It will be for individual trustees and boards to determine whether the aggregate expressions of these value and interests conflicts resonate with their own experiences and anticipations.

Foster (1988) noted the dual, and often contradictory, role of educational leaders as persons who "must ensure that schooling preserves and communicate the values of society and yet also be on the forefront of educational, social and technological change" (p. 68). With the dynamic of these changes incessantly confront educational policy and decision makers and, in the view of McCoy (1985), "[t]he increase of difficulties arise[s] from two fundamental changes that have occurred: the escalation of human problems and the increasing power and complexity of organizations" (p. 78). Gardner (1990) says that "the only hope for vitality in large-scale organizations is the willingness of a great many people throughout the organization to take the initiative in identifying problems and solving them" (p. 152). Greenleaf (1990) holds that trustees are key actors in the renewal of their communities in times of unrest and uncertainty. Toffler (1990) assigns this sense of crisis to the presence of rather uncomfortable shifts and balances of power structures. He suggests that the constituent dispositions and uses of violence, wealth and knowledge as power sources are currently jostling for preeminence. Whether one speaks of the business ethos, the family, the technological domain, the knowledge explosion or the diversification of ideologies, each of these is implicated in the increasingly difficult-to-handle world of public administration. Societal dispositions such as the commonly considered concepts of pluralism, syncretism, secularism, narcissism, materialism, economic recession, regime successions, reframing and restructuring of systems taken together with megatrends, decadal and generational characteristics, and the dissolution of the so-called "security triangle" are each and all ethically-related to the decisions made by educational legislators. Perhaps one of the most difficult sectors of public policy and one of the most severely affected by these complexities is, as Foster has suggested, that of education. Practical, personal and political integrity seem to struggle to remain at the crux of the policy maker's agenda while notions such as change, complexity, problems and power make ever more confusing demands on both professional and elected educational leaders. Peters and Waterman (1982) say that the real roles of those giving leadership is to manage the values of the organization (p. 26) and that "their major decisions are shaped more by their values than by their dexterity with numbers" (p. 51).

Some have suggested that the general public have been lulled into what Hodgkinson (1978) has referred to as "moral suspension" (p. 19); while, its elected officials are, ironically, faced with some very serious issues and dilemmas whose resolution would require the active attention of particular ethical cognitions, competencies and commitments. McCoy (1985) says that to meet the challenges presented by the changes and complexities of today's world, the public stewards must learn to "integrate ethical reflection into the entire corporate policy process and to recognize the ethical dimensions of every step in the making and implementing of corporate policy. The movement is from social response to social responsibility to corporate ethics" (p. 87). An increasing emphasis in the literature encourages the educational leader to consciously include the technical and philosophic domains in their work. Schon (1983, 1988) describes a shift from what he calls "technical rationality" to "reflection-in-action." He observes that in administration, because the pressures to develop pragmatic strategies have been so strong, there has been an emergence of dysfunctional methods for responding to ethical demands.

A better understanding of the value and interest-oriented conflicts facing school trustees and well conceived ethical decision and policy-making will undoubtedly contribute to the confidence and competence of trustees as they encounter the challenges and complexities of the late 1990s. Leaders need the qualities of both vision and virtue to sustain the confidence of their publics and to proceed with personal integrity in their decision-making (Bennis, 1989). Denhardt (1993) commends the pragmatic approach of asserting core values and securing the various constituent groups' commitments to shared values and interests as the most critical capacities of leadership in times of structural and paradigmatic changes (p. 181). Trustees, together with their professional counterparts, would seem to have been imputed with the role of value and interest brokers during a time when the task of understanding the complex choices has become increasingly confused. There is, at present, a dearth of meaningful research with respect to the everyday variety of issues and dilemmas facing elected educational leaders. This reporting of this research addresses this lack by providing a beginning inventory of the conflicts and quandaries of school trustees.

In his very helpful book, Guarding the Trust: Board Development and Self-Evaluation, Storey (1994) indicated that "it is essential that we are clear about what we expect and demand, and that our boards understand their mandates. Probably the most important understanding for our board representatives . . . is that in accepting the call to governance, they stand on behalf of and act for the organization and those it must serve - its communities of interest" (pp. 3, 4). Storey, and many other writers, would identify these referent communities of interests as students, parents, taxpayers, funding agencies, employees and volunteers, sponsors, and many other individuals and groups.


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Study Design and Methodology

This study reported here had as its major purpose the identification and interpretation of the "wrestlings" or conflicts of school trustees. In particular the study sought to develop an inventory of the types of values and interests conflicts that these leaders encountered in both their formal and informal deliberations. The approach adopted both empirical and interpretative methodologies in order to facilitate the development of a holistic view regarding the nature of choice-making in the educational trusteeship. In terms of research objectives, the researcher sought to describe the value and interests conflicts of trustees in such a way that these could be systematically and particularly addressed through trustee-leadership development initiatives, focused policy analysis and further research.

The research design included a mailed survey and may be described as a non-experimental or non-manipulative study in that it utilizes descriptive statistics and interpretative inquiry techniques to establish "parameter estimates" or "best-guess" descriptions of the selected population (Tabachnick and Fidell, 1985, p. 11). The survey, which containing demographic, descriptive and perceptual questions, was sent to 400 active members of the S.S.T.A.. Dillman's (1978) studies provided the researcher with particular instruction with respect to the design of surveys and the collection of data. With respect to the survey aspect of the study, the first mailing took place in June 1995, with the last of the data accepted by returns in late September 1995.

As indicated, questionnaires entitled "Values and Interests Conflicts Facing Saskatchewan School Trustees" were mailed to a random sample of both local board and division board trustees in Saskatchewan. The questionnaires (See Appendix A) consisted of 21 pages of quick response statements and open-ended questions designed to provide descriptive data and interpretations of the values and interest conflicts, contentions, quandaries, and challenges facing trustees during the mid-1990's. One hundred thirty-one completed questionnaires were received and analyzed.

With regard to survey data analysis, the research questions were answered using a number of methodologies. For example, the multiple-choice questions were analyzed by determining frequency, percentage distributions and measures of central tendency. The open-ended questions were subjected to a structured analysis of data consisting of a determination of themes of response and the assignment of all individual responses to theme categories by two different raters.


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Trustee Demographics

Of the 131 school trustees who responded to the survey "Values and Interests Conflicts Facing Saskatchewan School Trustees," 65% (or n=85) were male and 35% (or n=46) were female. In describing their ethnic origin, 35.5% chose British, 32.1% European, 17.6% chose "other" (all of whom, with the exception of a loyal Scot, wrote in "Canadian"), 8.4% French Canadian, 5.3% eastern European, and 1.5% aboriginal.

Only one respondent was under 31 years of age (.08%), 25.2% were from 31 to 40, 39.0% were from 41 to 50, 25.2% were from 51 to 60, and 9.9% were 61 or older. Current marital status was described as: married for 93.1%; widowed for 3.1%; separated or divorced for 2.3%; single for 0.8%; and common law for 0.8%. Almost two-thirds (64.1%) had a child or children in local schools, 32.1% had children all of whom had finished school, 2.3% had only pre-school children, and 1.5% did not have children. Of those who had spouses or partners, 29.4% of these were [working] at home, 51.3% were employed full-time outside the home, and 19.3% were employed part-time. Almost half (47.3%) of the trustees had lived in the community for 30 or more years, 29.8% had lived in community for 21 to 30 years, 20.6% had lived in the community for 11 to 20 years, 9.2% for 6 to 10 years, and 3.1% for 5 or fewer years.

Of the 109 trustees who responded to the question asking for a political party preference: 29.4% claimed to be non partisan; 21.1% Liberal; 18.3% New Democratic; 16.5% "other" (of those who wrote comments in beside "other," two specified "Reform," two indicated left of centre, two indicated that their preference varied, and one chose "Rhinoceros"); and 14.7% Conservative. Equal numbers viewed themselves politically as liberal or conservative (15.5% each), while 50% viewed themselves as moderate and 19.0% as something else ("other").

When trustees were, themselves, children, 79.4% had parents who were active in religious practices (i.e., church goers), while 20.6% did not. The religious affiliations of the trustees were: Roman Catholic (36.2%), United (19.7%), "other" (18.9%), "other Protestant" (8.7%), Anglican (3.9%), Baptist (3.9%), no religion (3.1%), Pentecostal/fundamentalist (2.4%), Presbyterian (1.6%), and Eastern Orthodox (0.8%). When asked how important religious belief was to them, 55.7% chose "high," 26.0% chose "moderate," 15.3% chose "low," and 3.1% chose "no importance."

The type of community in which best describes the type of community in which the trustees lived during the majority of their own K-12 education was: rural (41.2%); small town (29.0%); moderate size city (16.0%); and large city with population of 150,000+ (13.7%).

The highest level of education for the trustees' mothers, fathers, and the trustees themselves was: 8th grade or less (31.8% of the respondents' mothers, 38.8% of respondents' fathers, and 2.3% of the respondents); some high school (25.6% of the respondents' mothers, 31.8% of respondents' fathers, and 3.8% of the respondents); completed high school (20.9% of the respondents' mothers, 15.5% of respondents' fathers, 18.5% of the respondents); some undergraduate education (3.9% of the respondents' mothers, 3.9%, 18.5% of the respondents); tech/trade school (6.2% of the respondents' mothers, 3.9% of respondents' fathers, 14.6% of the respondents), undergraduate degree/diploma (7.8% of the respondents' mothers, 3.9% of respondents' fathers, 24.6% of the respondents); attended graduate school (0% of the respondents' mothers, 0% of respondents' fathers, 1.5% of the respondents); and possess a graduate degree (3.9% of the respondents' mothers, 2.3% of respondents' fathers, 16.2% of the respondents). Most of the trustees came from families in which the mother had more education, and most of the trustees had more education than their parents. Fifty seven percent of trustees' mothers had less than a completed high school education while 71% of trustees' fathers completed high school. This is contrasted with six percent of trustees without high school completion and 75% of trustees with some post secondary education.

About a third (34.4%) of the trustees said that when they were children their parents were actively involved with parent/teacher or trustee work, and 67.2% had parents who were actively involved with community groups and/or organizations.

Just under one quarter (22.9%) of responding trustees had been employed as K-12 educators (teachers or administrators) prior to their election as trustees. Table 1 below provides information on the involvement of the respondents in a variety of groups before becoming a trustee as well as the trustees' current involvements. Notice the fall off of activity for those previously involved in youth work, parent committee work, and service club(s).

Table 1. Involvement of trustees in groups before becoming a trustee and during trusteeship.

Group Type                       Before(1)        Current        Both          Never 
_____________________________________________________________ 
Church-related groups            61.8%            51.1%          36.6%         23.7% 
Youth group                      52.6%            11.4%           7.6%         43.5% 
PTA/Home & Sch.advisory Comm.    34.3%             9.9%           5.3%         61.1% 
Political party                  38.1%            25.2%          16.0%         52.7% 
Service club(s)                  64.1%            38.2%          27.5%         25.2% 
Government/Board position        26.8%            26.0%          11.5%         58.8% 
Alumni/University association    12.2%             9.9%           5.3%         83.2% 
________________________________________________________________________
1 The four headings (before, current, both, and never) are not mutually exclusive (i.e., a person who was involved with a political party before and after becoming a trustee would be part of the percentages in each of the first three columns) and therefore, the percentages do not add to 100%.

The years of service as a trustee for the current Board was 1 to 3 years for 38.9%, 4 to 6 years for 23.7%, 7 to 9 years for 18.3%, and 10 or more years for 19.1%. Almost three quarters (73.1%) had never served as Board Chairperson, 14.6% had served as Board Chairperson for 1 to 3 years, 8.5% for 4 to 6 years, 1.5% for 7 to 9 years, and 2.3% for 10 or more years.

Encouragement to seek office as a school trustee was received from the following sources (with the percentage of trustees who received encouragement from that source in brackets): friends and neighbours (38.2%); incumbent school trustee(s) (33.6%); decided on their own without encouragement (32.1%); educators in the school district (16.8%); parent and school committee (6.1%); community organizations (4.6%); work associates (3.1%); and political figures (1.5%). Note that percentages exceed 100% because of multiple sources.

The reasons for choosing to run for the position of school trustee were as follows: wanted to help improve quality of education (42.7%); wanted to develop a closer association with education (15.3%); wanted to improve communications (8.1%); wanted to influence policy in a specific area of concern (6.5%); wanted to use my previous leadership experience (5.6%); "other" (4.8%; these included responses such as "I believe the Lord was calling me to do it,""nobody else would," "to learn how system worked,"and "educational preservation and offerings important in maintaining a rural lifestyle"); and monetary concerns (0.8%). Of those trustees who had sought re-election, 73.1% did so because they "wanted to make contributions at the school government level," 7.8% "wanted to prevent less desirable from controlling the board," 5.1% "wanted to prevent undue influence from particular pressure groups," 1.3% "wanted to promote a personal issue," and 12.8% had other reasons (these other reasons included comments about the need to learn more, the finishing of tasks, and the desire to improve education).


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School Division Information

Trustees were asked to estimate how the present enrollment in their school division compared with that of January 1985 (a decade earlier); 9.3% estimated an increase of 25% or more, while 14.4% estimated a decrease of 25% or more; 5.05% estimated an increase between 15% and 25%, while 17.0% estimated a decrease between 15% and 25%; 10.1% estimated an increase between 5% and 15%, while 29.6% estimated a decrease between 5% and 15%; 13.6% estimated an increase of less than 5% while 0.8% estimated a decrease of less than 5%. In other words, 62% of trustees indicated 5-25+% decreases in estimated enrollments over the last decade compared to 25% whose enrollments had increased by 5-25% in same period.

The majority (86.3%) of trustees were in divisions with 10 or fewer schools; 6.1% were in divisions with 11 to 20 schools; 0.8% with 21 to 30 schools; 0.8% with 31 to 40 schools; 2.3% with 41 to 50 schools; and 3.8% with 51 or more schools. The number of full-time equivalent instructional staff in the trustees' divisions were: 100 or less for 73.6% of the respondents; 101 to 200 for 19.4%; 201 to 400 for 0.8%; 401 to 600 for 0.8%; 801 to 1000 for 4.7%; and 1001 or more for 0.8%.

One hundred and four (79.4%) of the trustees were from public school divisions, 24 (18.3%) were from separate school divisions, and three (2.3%) were from fransaskois school divisions. The school divisions were described as rural by 54.2% of the respondents, small town by 16.0%, moderate size city by 21.4%, and larger city (150,000+) by 8.4%.

Only 14.6% of the trustees served divisions that provided child/day-care and/or preschool; 31.8% had school-business partnerships; and 32.1% had a formal volunteer program.


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Board Composition

Most of the trustees (58.5%) reported that the majority of the trustees in their school division obtained their positions through election rather than acclamation, while only 34.8% believed that a majority of trustees obtained their positions by election (58.1%). The number of trustees on the Division Board was five for 29.2% of respondents, six for 26.2%, seven for 33.1%, eight for 7.7%, nine for 1.5%, and ten for 2.3%. The average length of service of present board members was estimated by 23.2% to be 1 to 3 years, 4 to 6 years (48.9%), 7 to 9 years (24.0%), and 10 or more years (1.6%).

Table 2 provides the number of respondents that served boards with the given numbers of members from gender and racial groups. The reader will notice First Nations, visible minority, and females are each under represented groups on these boards.

Table 2. Number of trustees serving boards with particular numbers of members from gender and racial groups.

One quarter (25.2%) of the respondents claimed that racial/ethnic changes had occurred in their school division over the past 5 years. Almost all boards' policies (92.0%) allowed more than one member of a family to be employed by the board.

Just over half (51.6%) of respondents were parts of boards that met once a month, 41.4% met twice a month, 6.3% three times a month, and 0.8% only as needed. The agenda for board meetings was prepared by the director only for 22.1% of respondents, by the Board chairperson only for 2.3%, was a shared responsibility for 52.7%, and in other ways for 22.9% (these other ways were: secretary treasurer only for 20 respondents; secretary-treasurer and director for five respondents; director, secretary-treasurer, and board chair for two respondents; director and board chair for one respondent, director and superintendent of administration for one respondent, and a standard agenda for one respondent).

Orientation for new board members was provided by the director in 38.9% of the respondents' school divisions, an experienced member in 13.0%, by two or more people in 33.6%, and by "others" for 10.7% (for 10 respondents this was the SSTA school for new trustees; others giving orientation were the secretary treasurer alone and consultants); no formal orientation was provided in 20.6%; and 1.5% of respondents did not know who provided orientation.


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Community Involvement

Community participation in the school division's decision making process was viewed as "more important than in previous years" by 52.7%; "about as important as it has always been" by 43.5%; and "less important" by 0.8%; and 3.1% did not know about the relative importance of community participation over the years. Parents and community were viewed as "more willing to participate" in school-related decision-making by 43.8% of the trustees, as "about the same" by 49.2%, and "less willing to participate" by 3.8%, while 3.1% did not know. The frequency that trustees sought community involvement in decision-making was "all the time" for 7.8%, "frequently" for 35.7%, "seldom" for 8.5%, "when required" for 45.7%, and "never" for 2.3%.

When asked about the extent to which the Division Board and District Board actively seek community participation in decision making, the following responses were given (with Division Board percentages first and District Board percentages second inside brackets): all the time (2.4%, 6.9%); frequently (27.0%, 23.8%); seldom (16.7%, 18.8%); when required (51.6%, 47.5%); and never (2.4%, 3.0%).

Trustees were asked whether community pressure groups had emerged in the last 10 years to influence the Division and District Boards. The responses were (Division board first and District board second): yes (65.4%, 55.1%); no (24.4%, 31.6%); and do not know (10.2%, 13.3%).

Trustees were asked which one area out of eleven that the District Board provided the greatest and the least opportunity for community involvement. Their choices were (with the "greatest opportunity" percentage listed first inside brackets followed by the "least opportunity" percentage): objectives/priorities (9.6%, 7.5%); student activities (29.8%, 1.1%); finance and budget (2.1%, 23.7%); program/curriculum (6.4%, 4.3%); other (6.1%, 5.4%); strategic planning (6.4%, 8.6%); fund-raising (17.0%, 2.2%); evaluation of programs (3.2%, 7.5%); general administration (5.3%, 18.3%); student behavior/rights (4.3%, 1.1%); and evaluation of personnel (1.1%, 16.1%).

An open-ended question asked trustees, "From your perspective, what is the area of greatest community pressure for school trustees?" Of the 140 responses (several trustees responded with two or more areas), the following general areas emerged most frequently: 1. finances, taxes, budgeting (56 trustees); 2. staff/personnel concerns (13 trustees); 3. moral or religious issues (13 trustees); 4. school closures (13 trustees); 5. program concerns (12 trustees); 6. transportation (5 trustees); 7. special interest groups (5 trustees); 8. pupil-teacher ratio (4 trustees) 9. student discipline (4 trustees); and 10. miscellaneous (15), broken down into: accountability (3), French governance (2), home schooling (2), administration (2), amalgamation (2), special needs students (1), aboriginal issues (1), conformity to mainstream values (1), and cultural integration (1).

Trustees were asked which one area out of eleven that the division board provided the greatest and the least opportunity for district trustees' involvement. Their choices were (with the "greatest opportunity" percentage listed first inside brackets followed by the "least opportunity" percentage): objectives/priorities (23.7%, 4.3%); student activities (12.4%, 0%); finance and budget (12.4%, 22.3%); program/curriculum (11.3%, 9.6%); "other" (10.3%, 6.4%; most of those who specified "other" did not indicate what the area for involvement was; of the six that indicated areas where the Division Board provided greatest opportunity, two indicated bussing, two liaison between the division board and the community, 1 vision planning, and one shared services); strategic planning (6.2%, 4.3%); fund-raising (5.2%, 6.4%); evaluation of programs (5.2%, 2.1%); general administration (4.1%, 14.9%); student behavior/rights (3.1%, 0%); and evaluation of personnel (0.0%, 26.6%). District trustees were provided with the least opportunity for involvement in finance and budget and evaluation of personnel. They were most involved in objectives and priorities of the division.


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General Stewardship of School Divisions

The chief negotiator for the divisions' collective bargaining agreements with teachers was the director for 16.5% of the respondents, a professional negotiator from outside for 3.1%, a board member for 58.3%, a professional negotiator from inside for 8.7%, and the board attorney for 0.8%. Of the 12.6% of respondents that specified "other," eight indicated that committees of board members were the "chief negotiator," two indicated that the provincial government was (presumably they were thinking of provincial rather than local negotiations), and one indicated the secretary-treasurer. The search for the current director was managed by school board members for 79.8% of respondents, and by a professional search firm by 1.6%. "Other" was selected by 18.6% of respondents; six of them referred to the involvement of the regional director; five of them indicated that a committee was involved, usually including board members; two involved the former director, and for one separate school respondent, the public board chose the director (presumably the director's services were contracted from the public board).

The Director's performance is formally evaluated by the Division Board annually for 54.7% of the respondents, semi-annually for 7.0%, at contract renewal for 12.5%, never for 14.8%, and other times for 10.9% (comments under "other" included: "all the time," "whenever deemed necessary," "day to day management," "sporadic," "periodically," and five comments specifying intervals of between 2 and 5 years). The procedure for evaluating the Director's performance was formal for 22.3%, informal for 20.7%, and both informal and formal for 42.1% (with 14.9% not evaluated).

The lead in developing new policy is taken by the school division board for 17.6% of respondents, by the board chairperson for 0.8%, by the director for 22.9%, by district boards for 0.8%, as a shared responsibility for 56.5%, and in other ways for 1.5%. Respondents were given a list of six problems which trustees face (with the option to write in other problems) and asked to check the ones which were the most difficult. Financial issues was checked by 88.5%; employee relations by 25.2%; community pressure by 20.6%; understanding appropriate Board role by 20.6%; curricular issues by 13.7%; internal board conflict by 10.7%; and "other" problems by 9.2%. The problems written in by respondents were: "expanded student needs," "tax base," "role of Catholic schools today," "appropriately keeping up with present student needs," "CEO," "one team concept," "not challenging administration and community," "labour regulations," "attempts to abolish Catholic education," "change," "rural urban shifts," and "dropping numbers of students."


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Problems Faced by Trustees

Trustees ranked seven problems from 1 to 7 by order of importance. Financial issues was selected as most important by 79.7% of respondents; understanding and fulfilling appropriate Board role by 6.4%; closing schools by 4.9%; employee relations by 4.0%; relations with other governmental units by 3.2%, internal board conflict by 2.4%; and community pressure by 0%. In rating the general abilities of fellow trustees to handle the more difficult types of issues that come to them, 58.9% chose "quite able," 33.3% chose "very able," 7.8% chose "not very able," and 0% chose "not able at all." In rating their ability to handle value conflicts that arise, 59.7% chose "quite able," 29.5% chose "very able,"10.1% chose "not very able," and 0.8% chose "not able at all."

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Greatest Challenges for Trustees

Trustees were asked the open-ended question: "What would you say it the greatest challenge facing school board members today?" The 193 responses (many trustees listed two or more distinct challenges) could be categorized as follows: financial challenges (81 trustees); general educational challenges (e.g., "quality programs"; "benefiting the greatest number of children") (23); enrollments/school closures (20); 4. growing demands and increasing expectations (8); student behaviour and values (8); political games and personal prejudices at the board table (6); communication with the public (5); personnel challenges (5); accountability (5); developing a vision (5); special needs students (5); technological education (4); amalgamation (4); rural problems other than enrollment (3); and miscellaneous (12) consisting of: extent of board member involvement in administration (2), special interest groups (2), keeping up with issues and information (2), empowering staff (1), long-term planning (1), maintaining Catholic education (1), intergovernmental cooperation (1), and core curriculum implementation (1).

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Trustee Worries

Trustees were asked to indicate the extent to which each of 121 provided situations and issues concerned them, by circling a number from 1 (="never worrisome") to 6 (="frequently worrisome"). The 25 concerns which had the highest mean ratings were as follows: Expected to do more with less financial support (mean rating of 4.96); Cost of services paid by education which may be the responsibility of other government departments (4.68); Balancing the needs of children with the needs of lower taxation (4.63); Competition for resources in public spending (4.63); High costs of special needs students (4.60); Financial matters and levy issues (4.35); Restructuring in the public sectors of health, social services and education (4.25); Challenges associated with sparsely populated areas (4.21); Declining enrollments while trying to maintain and enhance standard of services (4.20); Appropriate and effective school discipline (4.16); Alcohol consumption among middle years' students (4.08); How to deal with non-productive staff (3.99); Development of alternative revenue sources (3.99); Students' management of anger and conflicts (3.98); Availability of resources for resource-based learning (3.98); Providing training for teachers with special needs students (3.98); Inclusion of special education students in the regular classroom (3.98); Need for full service school which incorporate health/social services with education (3.97); Boundary alignment for services--health, education and social services (3.97); Amalgamation of school boards (3.97); Dealing with marginal teachers (3.97); Bringing older facilities up to code (3.95); Labour Laws, Human Rights act, Charter of Rights and Freedoms and their implications to the educational setting (3.93); Lack of control over events that affect schools (3.92); and Child poverty (3.92). Obviously, each board and individual board member will have their own unique experience, passion, interest, or lynch pin issue. This list of the 25 most worrisome topics is at the very least a starting point for discussions, research and strategic consideration.

The 15 concerns which had the lowest mean ratings (not very worrisome) were: Paying taxes on vacant school properties (2.14); Completion of work delegated to central office personnel (2.26); The relationship between the division board and the local boards (2.34); Required professional development to maintain valid teacher's license (2.39); Local Boards having authority to carry out their responsibilities (2.39); Phone and electrical cost during July and August (2.45); Funding school food programs (2.48); Age children should start school (2.56); Completion of work delegated to trustee committee(s) (2.60); Privatization of services such as busing and maintenance (2.60); Getting people's concerns to the Board without identifying the person (2.61); Keeping Board business confidential (2.61); Number of women in science education (2.62); Number of men in elementary education (2.67); and The reactions of others to a decision I have made (2.67);

In an open-ended question, trustees were asked which five of the more worrisome issues or concerns were most important for trustees and educators to address. Table 3 provides the number of trustees that listed concerns in various issue areas, dividing them according to whether they were the trustee's first, second, third, fourth, or fifth choice. It is noted that, again, the general financial concerns of educators were most prominent, together with declining enrollments, value/religion-related issues, and amalgamations.

Table 3. Most important issues for trustees and educators to address.


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Ethical Challenges

Another open-ended question asked trustees to describe the most challenging value or ethical conflict they had encountered within the last 3 or 4 years. The responses of the 78 trustees could be categorized as follows: staff challenges involving unprofessional or unethical conduct (15); program challenges related to morality or religion (13); board member behaviour challenges (10); school closure or boundary challenges (10); general staff challenges not involving unethical conduct or issues of ability (9); student behaviour challenges (8); financial challenges (5); parent or community challenges (3); staff ability challenges (3) (None of these were concerned with incompetence: two dealt with the desire to use staff ability as a criteria in determining redundancy and the other one concerned a challenge in determining who was the best candidate to hire); and program issues not related to morality or religion (2).

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Philosophies of Education

Trustees were asked to indicate the extent of their agreement or disagreement with six commonly systematized philosophies of education, by circling a number from 1 (=strongly disagree) to 6 (=strongly agree). The means of the ratings varied from 3.80 to 4.52 indicating moderate agreement with all six philosophic statements. Summaries of the philosophies are provided (in descending order of the means):

1. Education as preparation for citizenship and work --Technocratic philosophy of education (4.52);

2. Education as cultivation of the intellect -- Cultural philosophy of education (4.43);

3. Education as challenge of the individual to excellence --Progressive philosophy of education(4.29);

4. Education as development of good adults who help society -- Traditional philosophy of education(4.23);

5. Education as development of an egalitarian society -- Egalitarian philosophy of education(4.16); and

6. Education as allowing growth, expression of individuality, tolerance, and oneness with oneself -- Individualistic philosophy of education (3.80).

These philosophies are useful for more than academic exercise or discourse. In large measure, one's philosophy of education will determine the "larger than issue purposes" and criteria for mediating certain educational value conflicts. How one works through some of the worries itemized in the previous sections will be dictated, to some degree, by the philosophic perspectives one adopts.


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General Work Perspectives of Trustees

The trustees were asked to indicate the their feelings about their work as a school trustee by indicating the extent to which either adjective in a pair of opposite adjectives described these feelings. They had five choices for each pair: neutral (meaning neither adjective was more descriptive), high for either adjective, and very high for either adjective. The adjective pairs are arranged below with the first adjective of each pair being the more descriptive one: 1. worthwhile rather than futile (1.13 units towards worthwhile from neutral); 2. enjoyable rather than not enjoyable (1.06); 3. demanding rather than easy (0.82); 4. educational rather than economical (0.76); 5. encouraging rather than controlling (0.71); 6. people-focused rather than project-focused (0.68); 7. inspiring rather than discerning (0.65); 8. exciting rather than calm (0.62); 9. leading rather than following (0.59); 10. strategic rather than spontaneous (0.58); 11. political rather than pedagogical (0.50); 12. collaborative rather than hierarchical (0.49); 13. modeling the way rather than mandating the way (0.48); 13. included rather than isolated (0.48); 15. challenging the process rather than sustaining the momentum (0.46); 16. enabling others rather than engaging others (0.46); 17. satisfying rather than stressful (0.44); 18. collegial rather than independent (0.37); 19. hectic rather than serene (0.35); 19. well rewarded rather than poorly rewarded (0.35); 21. proactive rather than reactive (0.26); 22. administrative rather than political (0.18); 23. surprising rather than predictable (0.15); and 24. fulfilling rather than frustrating (0.06).

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Trustee Stress Levels

Trustees indicated their current level of stress by circling a number from 1 (=very little) to 6 (=very much). Their mean response with regard to the extent to which non-trustee-related sources contributed to their current level of stress was 3.14. The mean for trustee-related sources contributing to the level of stress they felt when not working on education-related tasks was 2.79. Their mean response to the question, "Generally speaking, how stressful do you find your work as a trustee?" was 3.11. The question, "What is your overall level of stress?" resulted in a mean response of 3.26. These responses would indicate that trustees do not perceive an appreciable amount of added stress than could be associated with their trustee roles.

In naming the "single most significant source of stress in [their] work," the following six sources were most prominent:

1. Financial matters (30 respondents mentioned this, and 20 of these respondents specifically mentioned the budget or mill rate);

2. Other trustees (11 respondents);

3. Negotiations (10 respondents; one person mentioned it was difficult to negotiate contracts with people one knew well; another mentioned the difficulty of negotiating with CUPE);

4. Administration (7 respondents most of whom referred specifically to the director);

5. Teacher issues (7 respondents); and

6. Downsizing and declining enrollments (6 respondents).

Sources of stress mentioned by three respondents were: politics (no particular source of controversy specified); government (presumably the provincial government); students; lack of time; and making the right decision. Thirteen respondents mentioned other sources of stress ("frustration," "communication," "keep people happy," "no control," "programs," "transport," "capital project," "public speaking," "old boys network," "delegating," "apathy," "failure to achieve objective which lead me to seek office," and "reactionary emerging business community").


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General Ethical Perspectives

Trustees indicated the extent to which 11 personal relationships influenced their ethical decision making as a trustee by circling a number from 1 (=very weak influence) to 5 (=very strong influence). These relationships starting with the most influential are:

1. Community connections (3.30);

2. Fellow trustee(s) (3.28);

3. Family in general (3.27);

4. Parents (3.02);

5. Spouse (2.97);

6. Administrative connections (2.92);

7. Teacher connections (2.82);

8. Close friends (2.56);

9. Religious leader(s) (2.50);

10. Elected political officials (1.94); and

11. Former director(s) (1.90).

Trustees estimated the weight given by board members to 22 sources of information by circling a number from 1 (=no weight) to 5 (=great weight). These sources of information starting with those given the greatest weight are:

1. Director's advice (4.19);

2. Other professional staff advice (3.97);

3. SSTA staff (3.45);

4. Parent groups (3.27);

5. Saskatchewan Education (3.24);

6. SSTA executive (3.23);

7. Students (3.21);

8. Local teachers' organization(s) (3.12);

9. Rate payer group(s) (3.06);

10. Conference session (2.99);

11. Individual parents (2.95);

12. Community interest groups (2.90);

13. Business community (2.76);

14. S.T.F. (2.63);

15. L.E.A.D.S .(2.54);

16. Municipal government (2.53);

17. S.A.S.B.O. (2.40);

18. Special interest groups (2.37);

19. Canadian School Boards Assoc. (2.15);

20. Canadian Education Association (2.08);

21. Saskatchewan Fed. of Home and School Associations (1.99); and

22. Media (1.97).

Finally, trustees were asked to indicate the extent to which each of 23 factors or forces made a difference to their trustee-related ethical decision making by circling a number from 1 (=not very important) to 5 (=very important). These factors or forces starting with the most important are: 1. personal principles (4.27); 2. economic constraints (4.07); 3. personal convictions (4.01); 4. policy consistency (3.98); 5. personal rules (3.92); 6. professional expectations (3.87); 7. work experience (3.76); 8. educational background (3.70); 9. personal upbringing (3.59); 10. community expectations (3.53); 11. board advocacy (3.52); 12. organizational expectations (3.45); 13. previous board meeting experiences (3.44); 14. general social/societal rules (3.40); 15. board member development activities (3.39); 16. professional preferences (3.34); 17. pedagogical constraints (3.24); 18. staff advocacy (3.24); 19. student advocacy (3.20); 20. philosophical constraints (3.19); 21. societal expectations (3.16); 22. religious constraints (2.75); and 23. special interest group pressure (2.34).


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Summary of Report

In their day, Toombs and Riederer (1969), p. 32) wrote that the typical Saskatchewan trustee served in a large school unit, had 10 to 15 years of experience, was a married male between the ages of 41 and 50, was involved in agriculture, had an education of less than grade twelve, had children of both elementary and high school age and would speak English only. Fifteen yeas later, Neudorf (1985) described the typical chairperson of the rule board of education as male, with more than nine years of experience on the board, between 41 and 50 years of age, and has at least a grade twelve education. Ten years ago, Epp (1986) noted that the unresolved issue that most demanded continued attention was the "acute competition for financial resources" (p. 558). It is interesting to compare these examples of data from the last 30 years with those reported in this study. The findings would indicate that some things have altered dramatically and some things have remained surprisingly stable.

From these findings one could say that two-thirds of responding trustees in this random sample were aged 41-60, two-thirds were males, nine out of ten were married, two-thirds had a child or children in a local school, 70% of their partners or spouses worked full or part time outside the home, and nearly 8 out of 10 had lived in the community for more than 20 years.

The study found that one third of trustees claimed political non-partisanship and 50% viewed themselves as politically moderate (versus liberal or conservative). Eighty percent were raised in active religious homes and two thirds were Catholic, United or "other" Protestant. About 20% said that religious belief was not important to them. Two thirds of respondents grew up in small rural communities with parents who had much less education than the trustees now possess. In fact, 75% of trustees now have some post-secondary education. Two thirds of trustees said their parents had been active in the community. It is interesting to note that trustees seem to be very involved in the life of the community, even after election. The majority of the trustees had no more than six years of trustee experience. Trustees were most likely to be encouraged to seek office by friends, neighbours, other trustees or on their own. The most common reason for seeking the trusteeship was to improve the quality of education.

Over 90% of boards reported having their meetings either once or twice a month, over an agenda that was set by a shared responsibility of members and director. It was noted that First Nations, visible minorities and females continue to be absent from the board table, in proportion to their representation in the general population. It was, however, observed that the number of female board members had increased over the last ten years (Epp, 1986). Three quarters of trustees acknowledged that few changes had occurred in this regard over the last five years.

The majority of trustees believe that community participation in the division's decision making is increasingly important and that the members of the community are willing to do so. Half the trustees felt that this involvement should be limited to times when input was required. Sixty-five percent of trustees indicated that pressure group influence has increased over the last number of years. They felt that the greatest opportunities for involvement were student activities, fund-raising, and working with objectives and priorities. Trustees indicated that involvement with finance and budget, general administration, and evaluation of personnel were areas of least opportunity. These findings were similar to those associated with the role of local board trustees (district trustees) in all the areas above.

When asked about the areas of greatest community pressure, the respondents pointed to finances, personnel, moral or religious issues, school closures and program concerns. In terms of the greatest problems that trustees face, they ranked financial issues as number one, followed by their own ability to understand and fulfill appropriate board roles and closing schools. But the financial pressures and problems overwhelmed the other potential problem areas in each area of the survey where opportunity was given for issue identification.

Trustees lean on their backgrounds, their community connections, fellow trustees, family members and the advice of their director to make decisions that are aligned with their personal principles and convictions within the economic constraints and measured by personal rules and policy consistency.


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Concluding Comments

Educational trustees in the next five years will be more challenged than ever by the demands of their multiple and pluralistic constituents to resolve value and interest conflicts. While this study does provide some data that allows trustees and those associated with them to examine their general beliefs and philosophic perspectives, it was design, rather, to provide a basis upon which the concrete, day-to-day issues and problems encountered by trustees could be better understood. A careful examination of the findings in each section of this report will enhance our understandings of the underlying factors that give rise to trustee wrestlings and that often seem to make the decision making of trustees so complex. This report provides boards of education with both specific and general descriptions these "real life" and, perhaps, "held in common" issues and problems beyond merely personalistic or anecdotal materials. It is obvious that this report points to a number of areas of concern for trustees that might have been considered obvious by even casual educational observers. The whole area of finances is reflected as the greatest source for tension experienced by trustees. Unfortunately the financial pressures, problems, challenges and worries are tied to some fundamental issues of economics, organizational change, organizational purpose, ethical considerations, and political analysis. These are difficult times for trustees in terms of figuring out how to deal with the demands for restructuring and at the same time experiencing the demands for quality educational services.

This research points, implicitly, to the need for the development of dynamic and generic frameworks to enable elected leaders to work through their mandate challenges. This becomes more and more necessary as public scrutiny increases, systems change and resources become even more precious. This study forms one of a number of vital facets directed towards raising the level of consciousness, commitment and competencies that must continue to characterize the elected membership of the S.S.T.A. who work through values and interests conflicts in their service to all educational constituents and communities of interests. The report provides some important benchmarks for future investigations of the issues and interests operating in the world of school trustees.

This study provides preliminary descriptive data and interpretations of the value and interests conflicts, contentions, quandaries and challenges facing trustees as they make tough choices. In other words, the study provides first-instance descriptions of the problems and forces impinging on choice alternatives in the context of Saskatchewan public education. Strike, Haller and Soltis (1988) say that "it is crucial that people be able to reflect ethically on their choices and their actions. This is especially important when individuals have power and influence over the lives of others. We can think of few areas where it is more important than in the administration of schools" (p. 6). Finally, this study provides an opportunity to examine "everyday" trusteeship in the mid-1990s. The prospect of contributing, in some small measure, to the future well-being of one of the most significant and influential functions in our society provides perhaps the most substantive hope for this research report.


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