Letter to the Editor: Education changes would gut northern schools

Dear Editor,

 

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With the release of the K-12 education review and the introduction of Bill 64 this past week, this government has decimated our public school system. I am assuming that many people have probably not read - or maybe even care to read - the education review or Bill 64, but here is why you should.

Education delivery has always been a pillar of the community. The ability to elect those who will represent the best ideals of your beliefs in public education is the epitome of democracy. Locally elected trustees work specifically to best meet the needs of the students in their own communities, because they live in and are part of those communities. There are specific circumstances and needs here in Flin Flon that trustees in Thompson would not understand or necessarily even consider.

Under this new bill, all of this is gone. Your voice was directly heard by your local trustees and you had a say in how public education was delivered. This was evident last month when Flin Flon had plenty to say about a proposed school restructuring.

The province has plans to completely abolish all school boards and trustees in favour of one provincial board they are calling the Provincial Education Authority (PEA). They will have different geographic regions with appointed representatives. They expect parents to take on an advisory role and provide guidance at the regional level.

The northern region will include Flin Flon, Thompson, The Pas and Frontier - yes, geographically, these four communities are expected to work together to meet the needs of the region.

Where do you think Flin Flon will fall in this model? Where do you think Flin Flon will fall on the list at the provincial level?

The PEA now has control over the number, kind, grade and description of each school in each region. The community no longer has a say in any of this. The PEA now decides on the direction that a school will focus and what programs will be offered. There were specific directions that we decided as a board to push our division’s focus. We valued mental wellness and brought in a mental wellness worker when we saw a need. We valued Indigenous initiatives and made Indigenous student engagement a focus. There were 33 mentions of Indigenous education in the Education Review. There was one mention of Indigenous education in Bill 64. The province has once again neglected to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action in Indigenous education with this bill. How can you modernize education in this province without addressing root causes of student engagement and student need?

Under Bill 64, the moratorium on school closures is gone. This means that if the PEA thinks that a school or schools are no longer needed in a community, they can close it. Think about that impact on Flin Flon. This bill also eliminates the rules on the length of time a student can be on

a bus, and whether or not a community even needs bussing. Flin Flon was not required to bus any of its students but your local school board decided that this was important for the community and made it happen. Think about that.

The PEA now controls the hiring of all staff. At the local level, we will see devastating job losses. We will see an extremely dedicated administration, who have all worked through the hardest, most challenging school year, lose their jobs. These are the people that have given so much of their time to make sure staff and students were as safe as possible this year. These are the people who are experts in their fields and now Flin Flon will not have local, dedicated staff on the ground.

When you needed help, there were always steps you could take. You could talk to your teacher, principal, superintendent or school trustee. I’m not so sure the provincial board will be so accessible. The regional council will serve the north, so I’m not so sure their director will reside in Flin Flon.

The PEA now controls who becomes the principal of each school. The school-level administration (principal and vice-principal) will see massive amounts of responsibility increase under the new model, but this bill will remove them from the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS). These are highly educated professional teachers that are expected to work harder, without any union protection and guidance. This is completely unacceptable.

The government claims that this move will save taxpayers $40 million, but they have not provided a single detail on where this number comes from. School trustees account for half a cent of every dollar spent on education.

In Bill 64, they reference a number of new jobs - school attendance officers, the provincial education authority officers, parental engagement officers, regional directors and school community councils. Each of these massive new regions (divisions) will see more and more money going into administrative duties instead of into classrooms where we need it.

I encourage you to read the education review. I was not opposed to the idea of an education review. If massive change would lead to greater student achievement and I could see the benefit for students, then I would not be so opposed to this bill. That is not the case.

The review does not call for the elimination of school boards. This is the government’s way of hiding this piece of legislation behind the guise of an external review.

I know Flin Flon is passionate about education. I saw this last month when over 500 of you completed the restructuring survey. Your voice is needed now more than ever. The Flin Flon School Division is gone. The very heart of a community is its schools - where will you turn now?

I stand by our local administration. I stand with our local teachers and principals and clinicians and support staff. I value the hard work and dedication they bring to school every day. I am ashamed of the path this government has taken. Students should always come first.

I encourage you to speak to your MLA and I encourage you to register to speak against this bIll by calling the Office of the Clerk at (204) 945-3636.

 

Leslie Fernandes

Vice chair, Flin Flon School Division board of trustees

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