The North East School Division has made its position about proposed school division reforms public. It wants no more forced amalgamations, elected school boards and to keep the ability to control its own spending.
That’s what it told more than 70 people in a full room at Melfort’s Kerry Vickar Centre that it hosted Jan. 17.
“Our position is that no matter what’s done, students have to be first and that there’s a plan in place, to ensure that student outcomes get better without any disruption on the way they learn, we’d support it,” said Luke Perkins, the division’s chair, adding that’s not something his organization is seeing in the provincial report of school division reforms done by Dan Perrins.
The province is looking at four options: one province-wide public division, four divisions, eight to 14 divisions or tweaking of the boundaries.
“Because of our size and geography, we’ll probably be affected by any of the four proposed options,” said Don Rempel, the division’s director of education.
At the meeting, the division told the audience that it feared the challenges of any kind of forced amalgamations would outweigh the benefits. As an example, it said that after the amalgamation that created the division in 2006, it took about five years to bring employee contracts and processes like purchases to a common standard. That standardization took energy away from teaching.
The director of education said the division is also concerned about three proposed province-wide entities: one that would mandate shared education service across Saskatchewan, an education quality council and a joint panel to oversee stakeholder involvement.
“We do think that we can achieve the goals of the province, including fiscal savings, through our current structures,” Rempel said. “Our board manages our funds responsibly and we’re willing to do our part to help the province through the next period. We don’t see the need for drastic restructuring to accomplish that.”
The division organized the meeting because it received the impression from the six-person panel that’s reviewing the public reaction to the proposed reforms that the public needed a way to weigh in.
“We saw the lack of response when the big change happened in the health and we didn’t want that to be [the case] here,” Perkins said. The number of responses from the public in regard to health region reform was around 300 province-wide. “We want our parents to be well-informed of what’s going on, so we’re letting people know as much as what we know.”
The division encouraged the audience to send letters to local MLAs and to the six-person panel via email to K12govconsultations@gov.sk.ca before its Jan. 23 deadline about their feelings on the issue – or, if they don’t fully understand the options – their confusion.
The audience was told the six-person panel expects the school division to say the status-quo was fine, which is why it was important to the public to have their say.
“This is one of those things where we don’t want people to remain quiet on,” Perkins said. “We want them to go to the online submission form, even if they are not clear of exactly what’s going on with this Perrins report.”
Remple said encouraging parents and its school community councils to get involved with a government review in such a direct way is unusual for the division.
“Our [community councils] should be focused on the needs of their children and their students and our board takes the role of advocacy on behalf of the North East School Division – that’s the role of an elected board – but we just thought we need to inform the public and let our school community councils and parents share that advocacy work on this issue.”
Division meets with panel, MLAs
Perkins said the division has met with both the six-person panel and local MLAs within its boundaries.
The chair said he was pleased with the meeting with the panel.
“We presented a very strong case that the North East School Division is always looking for efficiencies but [won’t] sacrifice the quality of education that we give to our kids.”
As for the MLAs, they’re concerned about the fiscal ramifications the education system has on the province thanks to the province’s deficit.