Why don’t we cut to the chase? Is it time to eliminate elected school boards and let the provincial government shoulder real responsibility/blame/credit for how our schools are operated/paid for?
I ask, in part, because of last week’s dust-up between the Chignecto-Central school board and Premier Darrell Dexter and Education Minister Ramona Jennex.
Earlier this month, the board announced that—in order to meet a provincially mandated 1.7 per cent budget reduction, not to mention contracted wage increases and inflation—it was eliminating every one of its 41 librarian positions.
“We had nowhere else to go,” the board chair said.
In the legislature last week, Dexter shot back the board was playing a “political game” to “scare” parents and “embarrass” the government.
There was money for the librarians, he said.
The next day, Jennex—while piously declaring “our school boards are in the best position to know the unique needs of their communities”—nonetheless announced she’d ordered the board “not to finalize their proposed budget cuts, pending an immediate provincial review.”
This is far from the first time a Nova Scotia government has stepped in when it didn’t like something one of our eight elected school boards was doing. In fact, since 2006, two different provincial governments have fired three different school boards.
So what’s the point of having elected boards at all?
Theoretically, local boards provide opportunities for community involvement and control over what is one of our most important public institutions.
Practically, however, the province not only controls the board’s purse strings but also makes all the big-ticket spending decisions—teacher salaries, pension plans, etc.—and then tell the boards to make it work.
Given the NDP’s commitment to balancing its books by next year coupled with the demographic reality that declining student numbers are hollowing out school districts, the education budget becomes an inviting target for government cost-cutters.
That added advantage—from the province’s point of view—is that it downloads responsibility for making the toughest decisions to local school boards.
Unless, of course, it doesn’t like what they decide. And then…
It’s time to rethink how we run our school system.