Nova Scotia to dissolve elected school boards in favour of advisory council

Education Minister Zach Churchill made the announcement Wednesday, saying the government is accepting "the spirit and intent" of the recommendations outlined yesterday in a report from consultant Avis Glaze.

Education Minister Zach Churchill says government is accepting 'spirit and intent' of recent recommendations

Education Minister Zach Churchill said the government will move ahead with a recommendation to eliminate all of the province's seven regional school boards. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The Nova Scotia government will move forward with a recommendation to dissolve the province's seven elected regional school boards and instead create one provincial advisory council made up of people appointed by the minister of education.

Education Minister Zach Churchill made the announcement Wednesday, saying the government is accepting "the spirit and intent" of the recommendations outlined Tuesday in a report from consultant Avis Glaze.

"I believe that by making these changes we will see a system that is more unified, that is more responsive and able to adapt to the needs of our kids long term," Churchill told reporters as he outlined the government's position on the report.

The francophone school board, Conseil scolaire acadien provincial, will not be affected — an exemption recommended by Glaze. 

The administrative apparatus of school boards will remain in place, for the moment, but there will eventually be some cuts through attrition.

The minister could not say definitively when the existing boards will cease to exist, only that he hoped the new structure could be in place by the next school year.

Hank Middleton is the president of the Nova Scotia School Boards Association. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The president of the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, Hank Middleton, called the move "a major change with long-term implications" and no guarantee of success.

"We've gone from educational democracy to educational bureaucracy," he said. "It drives me crazy that the province of Joseph Howe and responsible government we're eliminating elected school boards."

Gin Yee, who sits on the Halifax Regional School Board, said even if there is no end date for the current boards they have been rendered lame duck institutions.

He said board members would be "very limited" in the kinds of decisions they will be able to take between now and when the unelected council takes over. He said he will stay on to try to ensure a smooth transition, but acknowledged some board members might simply resign.

Education consultant Avis Glaze at the release of her report into the administration of the education system in Nova Scotia. (CBC)

In her report, Glaze characterized school boards as confused, with unclear roles and responsibilities. She said elected board members are too often acclaimed, turnout for board elections is poor and voters are apathetic.

The province will initially move forward with 11 of the 22 recommendations from Glaze, including moving principal and vice-principals out of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, a move the head of the union vows to fight.

Liette Doucet called the minister's offer to cushion the blow by offering to make up the difference in lost union dues "insulting."

"The union will not sell its members," she said. "We're not going to take a bribe from this government."

As for the rationalization recommended by Glaze at the administrative level, Churchill said that will happen over time and he assured current board employees "there will be no layoff notices sent out to central board staff in relation to moving forward with these recommendations."

He promised staff reductions would be accomplished through attrition only.

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The McNeil government will need to amend the Education Act to accomplish what it wants to do, but Churchill said he has not asked that the House be recalled earlier than planned this spring to get legislation passed as quickly as possible.

For its part, the NDP is ready to fight any bill brought forward that will enshrine in law the changes being proposed.

"We are very concerned about the proposed unilateral changes to collective bargaining," said NDP education critic Claudia Chender. "We're not surprised. This is a hallmark, I think at this point, of the McNeil government to make those kinds of changes."

"We will absolutely fight that."

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