Anglophone West DEC will raise school closures at next meeting
Jane Buckley, the Anglophone West DEC chair, says politicial demands stalled school closure debate
The Anglophone West District Education Council will hold a meeting on Oct. 23 to announce whether any schools may be closed within the next year, a meeting that was twice delayed because of political concerns, according to the chairperson.
Policy 409 sets out the rules on how education councils must advise communities before a school is closed.
By starting the process in October, Buckley said it would take until May to complete all the necessary reports and public meetings in order to have a school closed for the upcoming September.
Buckley would not say how many schools in her district, which includes the Fredericton, Oromocto, Woodstock and Edmundston regions, could face a recommendation to be closed
“There are schools in our province with under 40 kids in them, we have to look at the fact that there is no gymnasium, what the cost of upkeep is, the cost of repairs, the cost of staffing, the cost of transportation, all of those things, for schools that are so under-utilized that they become a drain, a financial drain,” she said.
Election concerns halted previous meetings
The district education council chair said politics stood in the way of making tough decisions about school closures in western New Brunswick.
“Because it was an election year, we were asked not to embark on any 409s during that year. I believe that came from the minister's office,” she said.
Buckley said the district education councils didn't want to delay the meetings, but did so in the spirit of co-operation with the provincial government.
Again, if there was any school closures coming out, if there was any talk of school closures and it happened three or four days before the election, it would have become a significant election issue at that point.- Jane Buckley, DEC chair
The issue reared up again in September, when the council, again, wanted to discuss school closures.
This time David McTimoney, the district superintendent, advised against holding the meeting so close to the Sept. 22 election.
“Again, if there was any school closures coming out, if there was any talk of school closures and it happened three or four days before the election, it would have become a significant election issue at that point,” Buckley said.
The Anglophone West council postponed the meeting, but the provincial organization of DEC chairs issued a statement during the campaign calling for the minister of education to lose their veto power over school closures.
The Education Act gives district education councils the responsibility for identifying schools for potential closure and making recommendations to the education minister following public consultation.
The education minister then has the final decision on whether a school is to be closed.
The Liberal campaign platform did not talk about removing the ministerial veto over school closures.
It did discuss a panel of experts to develop a 10-year plan for "all stages of education that will bring stability to our schools."
Premier Brian Gallant said in the campaign that the panel would be comprised of experts and people from all political parties.
He said the goal of the 10-year plan would be to ensure the policies are continued regardless of whatever party formed future governments.