DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARDS. THEIR CONSTITUTION AND DUTIES.
THE DEPARTMENT’S REGULATIONS, 1911.
During the discussions which arose on the various subjects brought forward at the conference of the District Boards of Education it was apparent that some of the delegates were somewhat unfamiliar with the method of constituting the boards, their duties when constituted, and, more particularly, with regard to the regulations of the department applying to schools in sparsely-populated districts. It is safe to assume that the delegates referred to are not singular in this lack of knowledge, and the following information, obtained from the Acting Inspector-General of Schools (Mr. J. P. Walton) on the matters mentioned, should therefore prove of interest.
The Education Act of 1871 contains elaborate provisions for the election of district school boards, but the machinery by which such elections were accomplished was cancelled by the Executive Council some ten years ago. This cancellation was largely owing to the apathy shown in the different districts in regard to the elections, and in this connection it may be stated that in 1898, when the last election of boards took place, out of 33 district boards there was a contest in only one, and in regard to the majority of the others there were insufficient nominations to fill the vacancies. For the past ten years, therefore, the procedure followed in regard to the filling of vacancies on existing boards has been for the department to secure nominations from the board concerned, care being taken to have the different religious denominations active in the respective areas represented as widely as possible.
The nominations received are, if approved by the department, submitted to the Executive Council and confirmed. It may, however, be mentioned that with the exception of resident magistrates and district medical officers, civil servants are debarred from becoming members of a board. In the event of an application being received for the creation of a new board in any given district, the department endeavours to obtain the fullest information possible, either from local sources, or from its own inspectors, as to the persons who are likely to take an interest in the schools and in education matters generally. From the names submitted a selection is then made, and the persons chosen as being the most suitable are submitted to the Executive Council for appointment.
As previously stated, this method has been in force for the last ten years. It has been found to work well, and it is claimed that it has one advantage over the elective principle, in that the department is able to secure as members of the various boards ladies who might not care to act in that capacity had they to first submit themselves to an election.
The Duties of the Boards.
The functions of the district boards are many and various. It is provided in the regulations that when an application has been received for the establishment of a school it shall be referred to the district board for their consideration and report, and when a new school is to be built the district board shall, when required, select a site for the approval of the Minister.
Regulation 199, which was referred to by Mr. Kingsmill, M.L.C., at the luncheon to the delegates to the recent conference, provides:
- The duty of members of district boards is to foster the schools under their care by every means in their power;
- to see that the rules laid down for the guidance of teachers are adhered to;
- to smooth down the difficulties of teachers by constant encouragement and sympathy;
- to have at heart the mental, moral, and physical welfare of the scholars, and to see that they are brought up in habits of punctuality, of good manners, and of cleanliness and neatness, and also that the teachers impress upon the children the importance of cheerful obedience to duty, of consideration and respect for others, and of honour and truthfulness in word and act.
They will generally supervise the schools, but it is no part of their duty to interfere with the curriculum of instruction, or with the teacher’s authority in the school, so long as he carries out the regulations. It is also provided that correspondence from the teachers to the department relating to the following matters must come through the district board chairman or secretary:
(1) Damage to school property or any repairs necessary.
(2) Any defects in sanitation concerning any part of the school premises.
(3) Applications for the use of school buildings.
(4) Any closing of the schools.
(5) Notifications that a teacher has commenced or returned to duty.
(5A) Complaints of parents,
(6) and other matters with which the board should in the teacher’s opinion be acquainted.
In addition district boards are specially charged with the duty of seeing that the school buildings are kept in proper repair, and they may carry out urgent repairs without previously submitting tenders for them, providing the Minister’s permission to do so is first obtained by telegram or letter. District boards are further empowered to investigate any complaints that may be made to them as to the conduct of teachers and their relations to the parents. They are, however, expected to protect the teachers from frivolous and vexatious complaints. They are also empowered to suspend a teacher for any of the following reasons:
- Intemperance, immoral conduct, gross neglect of duty, or continued absence from duty without leave. Such suspension has, however, to be at once reported to the Minister.
Other duties which the boards are expected to perform include:
- to see that the school buildings are protected from damage and trespass;
- to take precautions for excluding from the school during the ordinary business all books not sanctioned by the Minister;
- to inspect without notice at least once a quarter the school registers and records;
- and to see that the school is open on all the usual school days and that the teacher is present at his work.
(West Australian, 6 May 1911.)