Chairman of transition team says appointments will happen in September
© — Telegram file photo
It will likely be the spring or fall of 2014 before the province holds elections for a new provincewide school board, according to the man charged with amalgamating the province's four English-language school boards into one board.
Lorne Wheeler, chairman of the transition committee overseeing the amalgamation, said things will step into high gear over the summer, but new elections are still a long way off.
He said he expects at the end of August, Education Minister Clyde Jackman will appoint a temporary board until elections can be held "next spring or the following fall in 2014."
That seems to run contrary to what Jackman said in April, when he appointed Wheeler and the rest of the transition committee.
At the time, Jackman said elections for board trustees were scheduled for the fall of 2013, and that the government is aiming to hold school board elections this fall.
"They would have been held this fall. I don't know if that would be possible or not, but we still aim for that," he said. "This transition committee is going to come to an end, and at the end of that, then we move back to the elected boards, so that could be the fall."
At the time, Jackman didn't say anything about potentially appointing a school board for a few months - or maybe even a whole year - but Wheeler told The Telegram Friday that's the plan.
"There will be a new board appointed - a provincial board for this provincewide district," he said. "There may be members of the transition team on it, but it'll be a much larger group than the transition team. I suspect it'll be approximately twice the size."
When he was speaking to reporters in April, Jackman said nothing about appointing school board trustees. He indicated the transition team would keep running the show until elections took place.
The Telegram requested an interview with Jackman on the end of the school year and the plan to amalgamate the province's school boards over the summer.
A spokeswoman said he would not be able to do an interview any time before Tuesday, but would not explain why he was unavailable.
Wheeler said that over the summer, two different things are happening simultaneously - the four existing school boards are preparing schools for the school year, and the transition team is getting the jumbo-board ready to take over.
"The existing boards and districts are in place until the 31st of August, and they will do this year what they've done every year. In other words, they get the schools ready for when they open in September - so staffing of the schools, the bus contracts, cafeteria contracts, all these sorts of things will be done as they would've been in any previous year," he said. "Schools will open in September pretty well seamlessly, in a sense. They shouldn't even know there's anything going on at any other level for that purpose."
When it comes to the new mega-board, Wheeler said, they're still in the process of hiring senior staff, but once that wraps up shortly, everything else should ramp up pretty quickly.
"We have a CEO now and we are in the process now, we have completed recruitment and they're in the process of doing interviews of the remaining senior staff at the central office and at the regional offices," he said. "These will be in place very soon."
Liberal Education critic Jim Bennett is skeptical. He said the process should have been delayed a year.
"If you're going to do a merger of boards, companies, divisions or whatever, you can throw things together and deal with the outcome later on, or you can take your time and do it in a more co-ordinated, structured fashion," he said. "I think that's what they really ought to have done."
Bennett said he believes that with delays and trouble amalgamating, it could conceivably be 2015 before elections are held for a new school board.
"There's no autonomy anymore and there will be no democracy until they decide to give it back to the people, and I don't see that happening before the 2015 (provincial) election," he said.
New Democrat MHA Dale Kirby also had some serious misgivings about the school board amalgamations. He said the academic literature he's read says bigger school boards are definitely not better.
"It's pretty clear that the minister is ignorant of that literature or he's choosing to ignore it," Kirby said. "Amalgamating boards really takes school governance and decision-making out of the hands of parents."
Kirby also cautioned that the amalgamation process isn't just a matter of bureaucracy.
"This is not just about pushing boxes of paper in one direction or another and bureaucratic processes. This is about the students in the province and about all the employees that it takes to ensure that kids get a decent education," he said. "I think we'll hear more as we get closer to the school year about whether this process has been smooth or not."
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