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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A political response perspective on intergovernmental relations in education Bartunek, Frank Paul


This study of intergovernmental relations in education explored the nature of school district political responses to provincial government policies in British Columbia. Specifically, it examined the practice of a particular set of political responses (Elkin, 1975): coalition, socialization of the conflict, making use of a supraorganization, exchange, co-optation and penetration. Based on theoretical and empirical studies of governmental policy making (Doern and Phidd, 1983; Lowi, 1964, 1972; Rowat, 1980; Simeon, 1976) and interorganizational influence (Elkin, 1975; Rhodes, 1980), a three dimensional conceptual framework was developed consisting of policy types, school district types and types of political response. Ministry policy type was classified according to !?regulatory! (instructions for school districts to integrate severly handicapped children into regular school programs) and “distributive” (guidelines to school districts for capital expenditure allocations). School district type was distinguished by school board partisanship and regional—metropolitan variants. Ultimately, three school districts were chosen for indepth investigation and comparative analysis. This study may be regarded as an academic policy analysis using a multi-case study methodology. Based on interviews with key district office personnel and school trustees, along with document analysis and other evidence, the study yielded thick descriptions of the operational characteristics ‘of each political response in action. This study substantiated the proposition that political behaviour is characterized by certain patterns or regularities. However, while the “language” of organizational response proposed by Elkin (1975) provides insight and guidance for the study of intergovernmental relations, it does not appear to be comprehensive. Other district political responses come into play. Nevertheless, the findings of this study support Elkin’s proposition that the political responses of local government organizations are closely associated with their dependency on environmental resources. Application of the multi—case methodology in this research supports the contention of certain policy researchers that it is possible to combine intensity of study with comparative variations of key variables. The inter—disciplinary nature of this study, along with the systematic use of different kinds of definitions and the interactive opportunities associated with “on site” observation, were found to be very important and necessary features of this qualitative research. The findings and conclusions suggest that research should be undertaken on other typologies of political influence which were identified in the course of this study. Incorporation of what organizational theorists refer to as “resource dependency theory,” or “the political economy perspective” may aid in examining more comprehensively how school districts, as special purpose governments, adapt to provincial government authority. The study concludes with speculations about the nature and usefulness of school district political responses within the context of local-provincial relations in education.

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