Nova Scotia

Education reforms will give students, parents stronger voice, premier vows

Bill 72, which will enact many of the changes coming April 1 to education in Nova Scotia, includes the elimination of the seven elected regional school boards in the province.

Premier Stephen McNeil defends new administrative structure as Bill 72 nears vote

Sue Wilbur and Helen Anderson, both retired teachers, came to Province House to support teachers and protest the Glaze Report on Feb. 27. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Premier Stephen McNeil has promised students, school administrators and parents a greater voice in decisions that affect their schools once regional boards are eliminated at the end of the month.

"In my view it will be stronger," McNeil said Thursday in response to criticism from those who feel getting rid of elected representatives will weaken the voice of school communities.

"Their school administration will have direct access to the minister, there's no barrier," he said. "You don't have to go through someone. You just go directly to the department."

School board superintendents, who will be rebranded as regional executive directors under the new model, will deal directly with the Department of Education, starting next month.

In defending his government's new administrative structure, McNeil accused the boards of having "filtered" messages from parents to the Department of Education, and said eliminating boards will result in direct lines of communications and more clout.

His remarks came in the dying hours of debate on Bill 72, which enacts many of the changes coming April 1 to education in Nova Scotia, including the elimination of the seven elected regional school boards.

Premier Stephen McNeil at a pre-primary announcement earlier this week at Harbour View Elementary School in Dartmouth. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The premier's view of how the new structure will work was called "absurd" by NDP education critic Claudia Chender.

"I think the idea that the minister will take calls from a parent who is concerned about busing in their community, about a lack of resources, about toxic air in schools is completely absurd," she said.

"The minister couldn't even find the time to meet with all the [school advisory council] chairs in the lead-up to this hasty bill. How on earth is he going to meet with parents.

NDP MLA Claudia Chender. (Robert Short/CBC)

Under plan, school advisory councils and local home and school associations will receive money from the province for school-specific projects.

"They will have some finances to invest in what they believe is a priority of that particular school, whether it is stuff for the classroom, sports equipment, whatever they determine is the best use to build up that school community," said McNeil.

McNeil told reporters financing would come from the almost $2 million in savings related to eliminating the elected boards.

"We'll put a base amount in and then there will be so much per student so the larger schools, for example, will receive a larger amount than they would for the school on Tancook Island, for example."

Asked if the deputy minister and minister of education were prepared to handle all the requests and complaints currently handled by boards, McNeil was categorical: "Absolutely, that's their job!"