31-member Jamaica Teaching Council Board to be retained
Dr Winsome Gordon

CHIEF executive officer (CEO) of the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC), Dr Winsome Gordon has stoutly defended the proposed 31-member composition of the body's board of governors, arguing that the wide cross section of stakeholders in the education sector need to be represented.

She made the point during Thursday's meeting of the joint select committee of Parliament reviewing the JTC Bill. Committee members were deliberating on Schedule 1 of the Bill, which speaks to the board's constitution, which they bantered about being between 29 and 31, with suggestions being made to reduce the number to 16.

"I understand clearly that we do try to keep the board small and manageable but because of the nature of education, the council's boards are very big. They run up to 60, and 65 in some countries because the stakeholder group is very wide in education, and to have the teachers represented and to have the stakeholders represented," Dr Gordon said.

However, other committee members expressed the belief that a board that large would not be effective.

Government member of the committee, Tova Hamilton, said the board needed to be reduced by far, quipping: "I think having a board of 29 is a bit much. That is just a recipe for disaster," she said.

Solicitor General Marlene Aldred also said she was not in support of such as large board, pointing out that based on her experience, "it will not function the way you would really want a board to function".

Citing the expected functions of the board which include reviewing, evaluating and approving financial statements; and ensuring the operations of the council are in conformity with the Financial Administration and Audit Act, the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act and other financial laws, Aldred argued that a large board, "will not be efficient in getting these types of matters done, these types of management matters done, especially in the new fiscal responsibility framework that we now are all operating under."

The board is also expect to review, evaluate, approve and monitor implementation of the council's corporate policies, strategic, annual business plan and other corporate plans, and budget proposal submissions.

Aldred further argued that reducing the size of the board is just simply a mathematical equation to retain the relevant representatives but a smaller number.

"So instead of six registered teachers [who are stipulated must be on the board], you have a fewer amount and you cut down on the size of all the representation…You can still have all the representatives and perhaps come up with 16 persons instead of 29," she said.

"Remember, this is not rocket science. I understand that you need stakeholder representation but it's not just in education that you need stakeholder representation…You have that in almost every other field where you have to have wide stakeholder representation and consultation, but at the end of the day, what's important is that a board can function properly," she stressed.

In response, Dr Gordon argued that buy-in is very important, noting that in a discussion on the board, "you really want to have your stakeholders fully represented. So, while accepting the challenges of a large board, we also should consider the stakeholder group of the education system; it is very wide".

Opposition committee member, Senator Lambert Brown, said he was in agreement with Dr Gordon about participation and buy-in. "It's not about, with respect solicitor general, fiscal responsibility, [which] is not a good word in this last week," he said, before committee chair and Minister of Education and Youth Fayval Williams interjected to chastise him for bringing in "derogatory comments" about other issues, instead of focusing on the review of the JTC Act. "Come on, say what you have to say without political overtones," she said.

Citing freedom of speech, Brown went on to reiterate that "it is not the wisest thing to raise fiscal rules in the last week…I'm not here to speak things that are in everybody's favour. I speak my mind and my views and that is why I am here despite your effort to ask me to [uninvite] myself from the committee."

Government members Senator Kavan Gayle and Robert Miller also objected to "this large expansive board", both agreeing that the establishment of a subcommittee of a smaller board to deal with certain matters would be the appropriate solution.

However, after listening to all the suggestions, Williams pointed out that the committee had already deliberated on the composition of the board and had gone back to all the discussions from all the different stakeholders.

"I am inclined to go with what we have here now. Yes, it looks a bit unwieldy on paper, but all the groups are represented here. So, let's move ahead," she said.

The majority of members later agreed to keep the composition of the board at 31 members.

BY ALECIA SMITH Senior staff reporter smitha@jamaicaobserver.com

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