Monday, February 8, 2016

THE TOUGH ROAD AHEAD FOR EDUCATION ISSUES

With our province facing an unprecedented financial crisis, the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development has asked the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils not to come to the pre-budget process with a wish list. 

He wants the NLFSC to make suggestions about how education can be delivered at lower costs. There is an expectation that we can find ways to reduce expenditures and eliminate waste while identifying ways to deliver better and more efficient services.

Budget cuts over the last three years have detrimentally impacted the front line delivery of education in our schools. The delivery of education had been cut to the bone. Teachers, administrators and programs have been cut consistently in past provincial budgets.  These professionals are stressed and are now facing anxiety about their jobs.

We need teaching positions reinstated, more resources for inclusive education (not less) we need more mental health specialists in our schools, smaller class sizes, more literacy and numeracy supports, more guidance councillors,  the administration allocation increased to where it was a few years ago and more resources for the fledgling inclusion model. 

Simply put, there is no room for a 30% cut to the frontline delivery of education. 

The government is committed to the introduction of a Full-Day Kindergarten program for September 2016. The cost of the implementation (as of Budget 2015) is $32 Million. Subsequent to implementation, the annual cost of the initiative will be $13.3 million for teaching and programming. As much as I have supported the introduction of FDK, it is hard to understand how government has money to spend on a new program when they can not seem to get the delivery of inclusion right - for budgetary reasons.

The minister has also confirmed that school board elections will not take place, at the earliest until this Fall, despite vociferous objections to further delays while in opposition. 

I am as sick of elections as the next person, but having non-elected officials deciding the fate of schools, bus routes and the allocation of scare resources is as wrong today as was when the Dale Kirby told the  CBC in September of 2015 that he wanted to see new trustees chosen before the Fall provincial election:

"They are basically violating the law as it pertains to public schooling in Newfoundland and Labrador, and it's antithetical to the notion of democratic school government,
and 

"Three years without elected school board trustees — that's absurd, that's ludicrous."
What about the comments made in this Letter to the Editor that was carried in both daily newspapers and nearly all of the provinces weeklies in April of 2015:

“The election of school trustees is one of the core foundations of any public school system. It’s time for government to stop undermining the foundation of our public schools. “  

or
“School board trustees wield significant decision-making power on matters such as where students will attend school, which schools are prioritized for significant renovations, and where communities stand on the list of those needing new schools. That’s why they need to be elected by and accountable to the local communities they serve.”


We need elections this spring, so that democratically elected people are in place to represent students and schools. There is no accountability with the current handpicked board and that lack of accountability is as obvious today as when the minister was in opposition and calling for immediate elections when he was the education critic for both the NDP and the Liberals. A couple of more quotes from critic Kirby:

“It’s crucial that the governance of the school board be taken out of the hands of the education minister and given back to the people, through their trustees.”
and 
“It’s really shocking that things have been dragged on as long as they have. And, unless more pressure is brought to this (issue), they’ll do as they like and continue to delay the process,"



I'll close with this quote from the minister:

“You’d think that if the government had any interest in democratically-functioning school boards then they would have something done. But there’s been no reasonable explanation provided only when they get around to it, it’s going to happen,”


·  It is  perplexing, to say the least, to understand what has changed.  If the election of a democratic board was a serious issue that needed to be dealt with urgently with when Mr. Kirby was a critic, how do you square pushing them off until the Fall of 2016? 

I   I have not heard a plausible rationale for not holding the elections earlier, in fact with the Budget Crisis and schools already on the chopping block, the urgency is greater than ever. 

   Why can't the minister just provide a time table with a fixed date. This “within a year” commitment that suddenly popped up at the tail end of the election campaign sounds a lot like the old governments "when we get around to it approach." Let us not forget they promised elections would be carried out two years ago!

    My suggestion, take the Minister's advice and ensure more pressure is brought to the issue of school board elections occurring sooner rather than later or they’ll do as they like and continue to delay the process. 

It is more important than ever, as we head into this era of multi-BILLION dollar deficits, that the voice of school councils remain strong, informed and united towards our common goal of ensuring that all of our children receive a high quality of education.

We must ensure an accountable education system for our children.


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Get used to the idea of higher class sizes and the end of low marginal value courses.

The province should dismiss with the idiocacy of school board elections. No one could really care less. only 12% of eligible voters get out and vote. We should move toward the French SB model. It is much easier to manage and government does not have to run a general election.

Peter L. Whittle said...

The Federation has asked for years for the province to consider adapting the model the French Board uses, to no avail. The primary reason for the continued delay in the board elections is because the French Board has requested, and government has agreed, to change their board selection process to reflect the general election process used to select trustees for the English Boards. The department wants to hold the french and english elections at the same time. The challenge at the moment would be amending the legislation and ensuring that french rights are not violated. Determining who can vote for the french trustees might be a bigger challenge than previously thought. I assume they will follow something like the Ontario system. It all takes time.

The voter turnout issue is a real concern, as it was in Quebec, where the prov gov was going to dispense with the process but changed its mind. My preference would have been to hold elections that coincide with municipal elections. That would cut down on costs significantly.

The most significant issue for me is that the urgency and importance of these elections was advocated by the current minister, I fail to see why he no longer has the courage of his previous convictions. Was he right than, or is he right now?

If the election of board trustees is to be dispensed of, what do you suggest they replace it with, or is there even a need for a board. Why not operate the board completely from within government? There are some good arguments for that as well. Of course the Minister is on record as saying "The election of school trustees is one of the core foundations of any public school system. It’s time for government to stop undermining the foundation of our public schools. “ . I like constancy,

No doubt the financial crisis is going to have a significant impact on how education is delivered, it will be interesting to learn what is in store.

Anonymous said...

There is currently a very limited role for the School Boards in the province. The fact is that the Department of Education, through its legislative and regulatory mandate, makes or controls all key decisions impacting on the education system. The boards have very little real power.

Even with respect to matters within their "power," the volunteer, uncompensated board members are at a loss to challenge the "direction" placed before them by board officials and the department. Incidentally, the boards meet relatively infrequently.

Is it no wonder that voter turn out is low, typically 10-12%, or that many positions are vacated by the elected representative and have to be appointed by the minister.

Under the Joan Burke regime some years ago (around 2008), there was serious talk of piggy backing on municipal elections by using the same polling stations wherever possible. Apart from administrative savings, is was likely that the turn-out could increase to 25-30% - similar to the turn-out for municipal elections. The idea was frowned upon, however. The turnout for the next board election was one of the lowest ever!

The French School Board approach is by far and away the most sensible. Elected school council representatives in turn run for regional boards and finally the provincial board. The school district takes care of the whole process without involving the Department of Education, and there is no need for a general election. All things considered, it is the sensible approach.