School board amalgamation moves ahead despite protests

James McLeod
Published on April 25, 2013
Education Minister Clyde Jackman (right) stands on the site of the new St. Teresa’s school on Mundy Pond Road with Jim Sinnott, director of projects and corporate planning with the Eastern School District. During question period in the House Wednesday, Jackman answered questions about the amalgamation of  the four English school districts into one. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

The provincial government is charging ahead with plans to fold all four English language school boards into a single school board, even as the province’s teachers express misgivings.

On Wednesday in the House of Assembly, Education Minister Clyde Jackman announced the transition team for the amalgamation, just hours after the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association (NLTA) issued a news release titled “Regressive Education Cuts Will Have Negative Effects on Students.”

Education Minister Clyde Jackman has been insisting for weeks that people are focusing on the school board issues, or the people being laid off, but what they should really be looking at is the student-teacher ratio, which he says will remain the same.

The school board transition team will be led by Lorne Wheeler, a former educator and former deputy minister in the Department of Education.

The committee will also have two trustees from each of the four current school boards: Goronwy Price and Guy Elliott, Labrador School Board; Donald Brown and Nada Borden, Western School Board; John George and Kim Cheeks, Nova Central School Board; and Milton Peach and George Sheppard, Eastern School District.

During question period in the House Wednesday, Jackman said the province’s ratio of students to teacher is “the best of all the provinces in Canada.”

Lily Cole, executive director of the NLTA, said even if the government isn’t increasing class size caps, by eliminating other workers in the school system it’s going to hurt the education of students.

“Teaching is just not about curriculum. It’s about all those extra things that happen in the school, and those will be the things that will probably be first to be eliminated,” she said. “The whole school system is not just a teacher and 25 students.”

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball has been calling on the government to slow down. He said it’s “literally impossible” for it to amalgamate the four school boards by September this year, and instead it should aim for September 2014.

“Extend this for a year so that we can actually get some real meaningful input,” he said. “I don’t see where this government actually has any understanding at all of what the true impacts will be in the classroom.”

NDP education critic Dale Kirby said the move to a provincewide school board basically neuters the whole reason for having arm’s-length boards. Kirby said that with appointed trustees managing the transition, and with one mega-board running the province’s school system when things are done, democratic representation will be almost completely gone.

“The decision to have one provincewide board in itself runs counter to contemporary notions of what democratic local school governance is,” he said. “This is ... the furthest we can get from that without basically abolishing school district boards and trustees altogether.”

Jackman said he’s mostly hearing complaints from opposition politicians, school board trustees and former board bureaucrats, but he’s not hearing much in the way of protests from parents.

He told reporters the Department of Education hasn’t been hit with the kind of cuts that some people are talking about.

“As minister of education I feel quite confident, and to be honest with you, when you look at other departments that were cut 10, 12 per cent,” he said.

“The Department of Education took a cut of three per cent.”

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