School board trustees in the Prairie South School Division and elsewhere in the province are worried about changes coming to the education sector following the Perrins Report. The Saskatchewan Government will be collecting feedback on the Educational Governance Review Report prepared by Dan Perrins until January 23. After that, the government will be sitting down to make the hard decisions and select one of the options for revamping educational governance. The purpose of the Perrins Report was to take a hard look at making education governance more efficient in the province.
But trustees and some members of the public fear that the early-January events in the health sector could signal similar changes for education. Al Kessler, trustee for the Prairie South School Division, said that the governance review of the Perrins report is different than what is going on in the health sector.
“What happened in health is not necessarily predictive of what can happen in education,” cautioned Tony Baldwin, director of the Prairie South School Division. He noted that the Perrins report was directed at governance for the education sector.
It’s really wait-and-see for the divisions right now. “It’s hard to say right now what will happen,” added Baldwin. The Perrins Report offers the government four options for change, he stated. He said that option one is proposing the type of changes coming to the health sector. But bringing this option to fruition will take a lot more consideration. “There are a lot more schools in a lot more places involving a lot more people,” added Baldwin.
Kessler elaborated on some of the concerns that the Perrins Report is raising among trustees and the public. One worry is that the voice of the people might disappear. The school board represents local people, he explained. Right now “people can contact their school board representative if they have concerns,” said Kessler. But some options in the report call for an appointed board for the whole province. In effect, he describes the situation as “taxation without representation” where the school taxes are paid but the ratepayers have no voice at the table.
Kessler says that another danger is that the further away and the smaller the school, the less chance of it has of being heard. “They become just a number,” he said. Local issues such as busing will get lost in a large centralized decision-making system in an urban centre.
For the public, the whole process has seemed rushed. Perrins was tasked with the report in November and had to present his report in six weeks to the Education Minister on December 21. Public feedback is being accepted until January 23 on the options presented. Given that the budget is due in early March, it appears that the government is looking to have options in place. Implementation will be another story.
According to Perrins, he met with 32 stakeholders to get their input. These included school boards, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, parent groups and many others. The report itself outlines the background of Saskatchewan’s educational system and four options to improve governance.
One option proposes a provincial model which calls for consolidating the 18 existing public boards of education into a single provincial public school board. It would be responsible for managing all 606 public schools in the province. The public board would report to the Minister of Education. The board would hire a CEO to manage the education and business functions. Four to six regional service areas would be established. This option looks more efficient on paper but has never been tried in practice yet.
Option two is a regional model which establishes four regional public boards of education, accountable to the Minister of Education. Regional boundaries would be established by the Minister following consultation. This model would allow for greater community input. Option three proposes two types of divisional models that provide an opportunity for choice in the way boards are selected and still result in some of the benefits of the provincial and regional model. One calls for restructuring the public school divisions according to changing demographics, changes to legislation and taxation, and with a view to the future. The second version calls for realigning boundaries to support local community needs and interests.