Thursday, 19 January 2017 04:46

Chinook School Division trustees raising some concerns over K-12 education governance review

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Chinook School Division representatives respond to questions during a media briefing about the provincial government’s K-12 education governance review at Fairview School in Swift Current, Jan. 17. From left to right, Board Chair Larry Caswell, Board Vice-Chair Dr. Shane Andrus, and Director of Education Liam Choo-Foo. Chinook School Division representatives respond to questions during a media briefing about the provincial government’s K-12 education governance review at Fairview School in Swift Current, Jan. 17. From left to right, Board Chair Larry Caswell, Board Vice-Chair Dr. Shane Andrus, and Director of Education Liam Choo-Foo.

The Chinook School Division Board of Education is raising concerns over the potential impact of the provincial government’s K-12 education governance review on public education in Saskatchewan.


The concerns of trustees were highlighted by Board Chair Larry Caswell and Vice-Chair Dr. Shane Andrus at a media conference, Jan. 17.
They encouraged community members to use the opportunity to submit comments on the educational governance review report before the Jan. 23 deadline.
“We believe that now is the time for each of us to reach out to government to send a message of the value of our elected boards and also the value of our school division as it is without any amalgamation,” Dr. Andrus said. “So we’re encouraging all the stakeholders to simply call their MLA to say they’re opposed to amalgamations, to say they’re opposed absolutely to the appointment of trustees.”
The provincial government appointed Dan Perrins, an experienced public servant, in November to consider the governance and administration options for the K-12 public education system in Saskatchewan.
Deputy Premier and Minister of Education Don Morgan released the Perrins report on Dec. 21 and at the same time announced a consultation process to provide the public and stakeholders an opportunity until Jan. 23 to submit comments on the report.
The brief period provided for people to submit their comments on the report is a concern for the Chinook School Division trustees.
“This has been put through so quickly that it seems like there’s no meaningful opportunity for people to understand it, to gather the facts and to gather their thoughts together to see whether this is something they support,” Caswell said during an interview with the Prairie Post.
He noted more time was available for consultation before the previous amalgamation of school divisions in January 2006.
“it was basically stretched out over a couple of months that you had the opportunity for input,” he said. “The scarcity of opportunity for input is startling in this.”
The Chinook board made a submission to Perrins when he consulted with different organizations and groups.
“We said first of all we’re already the size of Nova Scotia,” Caswell mentioned. “So it would seem that there comes a point where this increase in size takes away efficiency rather than gains it, and we think we may be at that level already.”
The submission emphasized the Chinook School Division’s successful efforts to identify and implement operation efficiencies. The board also expressed its clear preference for local, elected school boards.
The Perrins report is proposing four different alternatives for education governance. The provincial model (option 1) will consolidate the 18 existing public boards of education into a single provincial public school board. The regional model (option 2) will establish four regional public boards of education to replace the 18 existing public boards of education.
The division model (option 3) will result in less disruption to the existing governance system. Option 3A will restructure the current public school divisions to create between eight and 14 school divisions. Option 3B will realign the boundaries of existing school divisions.
Dr. Andrus noted the position of the current school boards on governance does not favour the proposals in the report.
“The Perrins report makes it very clear that the boards unanimously agree that boards should be elected and there should be no further amalgamations,” he said. “We’d rather focus on positive, hopeful, bright ideas to strengthen and improve current governance, rather than totally, completely dismantling our current system that we know will not save any money and be highly disruptive for students and school communities.”
He feels there is a lack of detail in the report on the implementation of the proposed options.
“The Perrins report nowhere talks about how,” he said. “How do we implement any of these changes, and truly as trustees, as a board, that would be the important piece for us and we’d ask the public to consider that keenly. If there is no how, should the government be proceeding with change?”
Caswell is skeptical about the benefits of amalgamating the existing school divisions, because the Chinook School Division is already struggling with the geographical size of its area of responsibility.
“We have a hard enough time keeping our far flung corners involved and aware and informed, and trying to keep some evenness across the piece of Chinook School Division,” he said. “Now when you’re talking of having four school divisions in the province or just one running the whole province, the efforts of keeping equity, the efforts of having that big proposed board accountable, is a Herculean task. It’s almost beyond the realm to think that you can keep any connection to small town Saskatchewan from some place 300 miles away in Regina or Saskatoon. It’s not feasible.”
He is concerned that a focus on educational governance and transformation will take attention away from the educational outcomes of students. He believes the previous amalgamation 10 years ago provides a useful example of what will happen.
“I was there for that, so I can say with some authority that it probably took five years for the system to be all combined and all of the operational stuff put in place enough that we could refocus on the education of the kids,” he said. “There was contracts. We had nine school divisions, nine different contracts. You try to bring them in alignment, you bring in just the operational things. Things like how do you cover expenses, pay cheques. Everybody had a different system of payments and all of those things took priority just to get the wheels running.”
The assumption in the Perrins report is that amalgamation and centralization can result in financial savings, but that is not what happened 10 years ago.
“They recognized at least then that it was going to cost extra money to get this stuff in place and I believe it was three years they actually supplied extra money to each of the school divisions just to bring things together and get a cohesive unit to replace the ones that have been brought together,” he noted. “So they recognized then that it actually costs money to do what they say now will actually give you money by doing it.”
Chinook board members informed school community councils about the Perrins report at meetings in Swift Current on Jan. 11 and Maple Creek on Jan. 12.
“They represent the people in the attendance area of the schools, the families in the schools, and others in their community, and we felt nobody is going to be damaged more than these communities, these parents and they certainly had the right to know,” Caswell said.
Since then a number of school community councils in the Chinook School Division have arranged meetings in their areas to provide residents with information about the Perrins report.
The Chinook Board of Education is encouraging residents to submit comments on the K-12 education governance review before the Jan. 23 deadline or to contact their MLA. Comments can be e-mailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or submitted through the Government of Saskatchewan website. Information, sample letters and MLA contact information are available on the Saskatchewan School Boards Association website at http://saskschoolboards.ca.

Read 2700 times Last modified on Thursday, 19 January 2017 08:59
Matthew Liebenberg

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