Let’s hope schools don’t suffer

Gerry
Gerry Phelan
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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

St. John’s.

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

gerryp@bellaliant.net.

Organizations: Education Department

Geographic location: Gander, Corner Brook, Happy Valley Goose Bay

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Recent comments

  • Don Sturge
    April 21, 2013 - 16:04

    Speaking about consolidation /amalgamation, I wonder how the Dunderdale Govermment would feel if the Prime Minister were to consolidate the 4 Provincial Governments of Atlantic Canada NL, PEI, NS and NB without any consultations and opportunity for input regarding how this new Government entity would be functioning. Lets face it, it would be a great cost saving measure.The Prime Minister could establish satalite offices in St. John's, Charlotetown, Saint John, and Halifax. Given that the majority of people live in the Halfax area, then that would be the best place to establish the New main Government Office.This is where the Prime Minister could establish the main centre for financial matters, and deal with the main functions of government operations. By the way the Prime Minister wil appoint his people from Atlantic Canada to run this new Government. All elected MHAs,etc. in each of the Provinces will no longe needed as of the end of summer. There will be no problem having this new Govermmeng up and running for September 2013. The main rationale for this move of consolidation is the continued decline in the population of Atlantic Canada. The Prime Minister has given a great deal of thought to this move and believes it is the time to bring about such a move.

  • Harold
    April 11, 2013 - 14:59

    when we voted to end denominational education in Newfoundland we were told that all our problems concerning education would be behind us.. strange how Governments manage to screw things up on a regular and consistent basis.

  • Cuts to Public Libraries
    April 05, 2013 - 08:18

    School boards have been doing so well for so long, I doubt whether those juggernauts stand to suffer all that much. Restructuring will likely make them more efficient. I am much more concerned about the cuts to public libraries in light of all the services and programs it makes (or made) available to the public for free. That kind of value-added benefit can't be found anywhere else in this modern world where everything costs. Think of a public library as an internet cafe, bookstore, and DVD store all rolled into one - and those are just some of the bare basics. School gives you an education. Public libraries support lifelong learning, self-help, and leisure. In Corner Brook, Marc Thackray and the Corner Brook local library board have the guts to speak out against these cuts, unlike the provincial board that oversees all public libraries in the province. It appears they've accepted these cuts against public libraries without a peep, so as to "advise" library system directors on where to make those cuts and go against its own mandate written into provincial law. In doing that, they've helped facilitate a serious blow against quality of life in Newfoundland and Labrador. These cuts and lay-offs (and the ones to come) stand to cripple our public libraries. And they won't help the deficit one iota since our libraries operate on such a small budget to begin with.