Nova Scotia

'It's about time,' school board member says of plan to dissolve boards

Education Minister Zach Churchill's decision to dissolve the province's seven elected regional school boards is being denounced by some board members who worry local voices will be lost, but is being welcomed by others.

While one elected official welcomes move, others fear the public will lose its voice in education

A hallway at Citadel High School in Halifax. (Robert Short/CBC)

Education Minister Zach Churchill's decision to dissolve the province's seven elected regional school boards is being denounced by some board members who worry local voices will be lost, but is being welcomed by others.

"My reaction was: it's about time. In fact, it's overdue," said Dolores Atwood, who is in her second term as a member of the Tri-County Regional School Board.

She's heading into her sixth year now, but said her first year was a "disturbing" time. In her experience, board members would form "cliques" to stop new ideas.

"When you speak your mind and vote against something, there's always that challenge against you as a person. 'Why do you have to vote like this? Why are you not voting with us?'" she told CBC News.

"The truth of the matter is they failed the public. When the public comes to them with issues, they turn them away. They never listen to them."

Bickering derails work

In dissolving the seven regional school boards, the province is following the recommendation of consultant Avis Glaze. In her report released this week, she criticized boards as confused and unclear about their roles.

Atwood said she believes in the democratic ideas behind elected boards, but said in practice, they didn't deliver.

"We have meetings — there's no unity. It's always fighting and fighting," she said. "The reality is that public education in Nova Scotia is in trouble and school boards, in my opinion, struggled in our key responsibilities and focuses."

Atwood said she's giving the province the benefit of the doubt that it will come up with a better way, but said it must include local voices.

Avis Glaze's report was embraced by the government, but got mixed reviews from school board members. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

David Wright, a member of the Halifax Regional School Board, said boards were being used as "scapegoats."

Speaking on CBC's Maritime Noon, he said he agreed with most of Glaze's recommendations, apart from axing the boards. He said board members have long made the same recommendations to the province.

"To have them identified by the province, when they've been the ones saying, 'No it costs too much' for so long, and then say that somehow getting rid of us is going to give them the ability to do the things we've been asking for? It boggles my mind."

David Wright, a member of the Halifax Regional School Board, said it 'boggles my mind' the province is axing school boards. (Rob Short/CBC)

Wright said parents regularly share concerns with him, and he brings those concerns to the board.

"My concern is the public will lose its opportunity to have its voice in public education," he said. "We provide that insight to the public's perspective on it."

He added, "I'm not worried about losing my job; I'm worried about my community losing my position."

'We're at the grass roots'

Jamie Samson, chair of the Strait Regional School Board, said he and other board members met in-camera last night to talk about the decision. He said they're disappointed, but focused on working for students until the boards are dissolved.

"We're in our communities, we're at the grass roots level. We're boots on the ground and I think that's an important element to the system we have today," he said on Information Morning Cape Breton.

Steve Parsons, chair of the Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board, also met with the board last night. He said about 120 people came out, and he wonders who will listen to them in the future.

"Where does the role of the local connection apply in this strategy going forward?" he asked.

"It's having that independent, neutral voice back to government," he added. "It enables us to take those voices and make sure they're heard at the table."

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