We will lose a piece of democracy thanks to the new provincial budget.
The decision to reduce the number of school boards from five to two — one English, one French — will undoubtedly remove some volunteer, elected trustees from the system.
This was supposed to be an election year for school boards. Four years ago, the government went out of its way to encourage people to run for the positions.
In a news release on April 29, 2009, then education minister Darin King unveiled increased funding and a “renewed focus on building candidate and voter participation.”
He called school board trustees “an important part of our school communities and the overall education system of the province” and said “Trustees are part of decision-making in areas that directly affect students and individual schools.”
School board trustees are like municipal governments.
They are closest to the people, and the ones who are supposed to be accountable to local school districts. Representatives cover specific geographical areas. The Eastern School District website actually lists the schools that fall under the trustee’s respective zone.
We don’t know yet how the new board structure will look, but it is unlikely there will be as many trustees as we have now.
The four English-language school boards will see financial and administrative services amalgamated into one district office in St. John’s.
There is a promise of a strong regional presence in Gander, Corner Brook, and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, with senior executive and managers in all the former school districts. Government has also said many staff now located in satellite offices will be deployed directly into schools.
Some years ago when I was involved in a school council, I often needed to reach out to the school board, both the trustees and the executive director.
We were fortunate to have officials available for meetings, most times in person, to hear directly from us on problems or the wishes and desires of our students and staff. The elected trustee was our ear and our voice.
I wonder what students, parents and teachers will face now, as they deal with an administrative body which, for all intents and purposes, will be making decisions out of
There is often more to a school than meets the eye of a bureaucrat scanning numbers on a page. Hour-long bus rides back and forth to school have a serious impact on a child’s ability to participate in school activities outside the classroom, and soon, the school becomes just a building and not the learning environment it was meant to be.
I heard Education Minister Clyde Jackman suggest a provincial board will remove some of the local politics, and help ensure decisions are made based on sound evidence.
Sometimes the evidence really isn’t black and white, and local conditions, and cases made through local politics, are the only way to force the issue.
I’ll be interested to see whether the trustees for the new board will be elected or appointed, how big an area they represent, what resources they are given, and what communication links are put in place for the parent, teacher and student communities.
Education Department numbers show that since 2004, enrolment has declined by almost 14,000 students. The population shift alone is cause to rethink how things are done.
The Dunderdale government faced some tough choices and education has to take its share of the blade.
I’m not convinced these specific school board changes are the way to go, but I’ll hold Jackman to his word that the new board will truly be representative of the province, with students and learning as the main focus.
Let’s hope the new board structure gives us the accountability we expect. Our children deserve that.
Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former
broadcaster. He can be reached at