N.S. government to move ahead with recommendation to eliminate school boards

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WATCH: Nova Scotia's education minister says the government will move ahead with a recommendation to eliminate all of the province's seven English language regional school boards. Jennifer Grudic has more – Jan 24, 2018

Nova Scotia will eliminate the province’s seven English language school boards and remove principals and vice-principals from the teachers union as part of sweeping changes to the education system, the government announced Wednesday.

Education Minister Zach Churchill said the Liberal government’s decision to adopt all 22 recommendations included in a report by consultant Avis Glaze will change the education system “for the better” and improve student success.

The initial phase will see the province move on 11 recommendations, including the elimination of the elected boards.

“Dr. Glaze has challenged us to take a hard look … and move forward in a way that is challenging and that is disruptive to the status quo,” said Churchill.

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He said the regional school boards will be replaced by a single appointed provincial advisory council, while the Acadian school board would remain intact, as recommended.

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Churchill said the details on dissolving the boards are still a work in progress and would have to wait until changes to the Education Act are tabled in the legislature.

He said the intent is to have the new advisory council in place in time for the next school year in September. Churchill said there would be no layoff notices issued to central board staff, while cuts to the administrative structure of school boards would eventually occur through attrition.

He said the change is needed to mend what’s become a fractured administrative system.

“It has not allowed us to respond or adapt as quickly as we need to, to the changing and developing needs of our kids. By unifying that system operationally, I think that will give us a better opportunity to do that.”

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In a report released Tuesday, Glaze said Nova Scotia’s education system is not working as it should because of a “lack of clarity and coherence” and its administration should be aligned into a single model.

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Hank Middleton, president of the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, said while the boards realize change is needed, it shouldn’t be at the expense of the elected bodies.

Middleton said the government is moving the province from “educational democracy to educational bureaucracy.”

“This is a major change with long-term implications and no guarantee of saving any funding or giving people more voice,” he said. “It drives me crazy that in the province of Joseph Howe and responsible government we’re eliminating elected school boards.”

However, Glaze’s report argues that the high number of acclaimed candidates and relatively low voter turnout make it difficult to argue school boards are “high-functioning models of local democracy.”

Glaze said results from the October 2016 school board elections showed 63 per cent of candidates were acclaimed.

“It would certainly be challenging to paint that as a portrait of a vibrant democracy in action,” she wrote.

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In recommendations that were dismissed by the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, Glaze also called for a provincial college of educators aimed at giving teachers more professional standing and improving public confidence in the education system.

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She also said principals and vice-principals should be moved into a new professional association to eliminate the “conflict of interest” that exists with both management and employees being in the same union.

Churchill said the government has the authority to make that change.

“But I don’t want that to be interpreted to mean that we are not going to be working with them (the union) through the transition,” said Churchill.

The minister said the government would likely make up any “shortfall” in union dues so as not to put it at a financial disadvantage.

Union president Liette Doucet called the government’s offer of transitional help “insulting” and said the union will consider what options are available to fight the proposed change.

“The union will not sell its members – we are not going to take a bribe from this government,” Doucet said.

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