Saskatchewan Opposition party asks for clarity on education changes

The NDP questions the Sask. Party government for not announcing its transformational changes to education during the spring election.

NDP MLA Carla Beck singles out Education Minister Don Morgan during question period

Transformational education was a topic of focus at the Saskatchewan Legislature during Tuesday's question period. (CBC)

Saskatchewan's Opposition party wants the provincial government to come clean on whether or not they plan to amalgamate school divisions and eliminate trustee elections.

During Tuesday's question period at the Saskatchewan Legislature, NDP MLA Carla Beck asked for clarification from the government on its plan to move towards school division amalgamation and government-appointed trustees.

Beck said if the Sask. Party is planning to amalgamate school divisions, they should have disclosed their plans during the election campaign.

NDP MLA Carla Beck wonders why the Saskatchewan Party didn't announce its plans for transformational change to education during the election. (CBC)

"Why is the minister throwing out more uncertainty about our kids' schools before the budget comes out? And why didn't he talk about this during the campaign?" Beck said.

She said at a time where school divisions are fighting to stay in line with tight budgets, creating more uncertainty for the education system is the last thing school divisions need.

Don Morgan responded in the legislature by stating the government has no plans to move ahead on amalgamation or appointed trustees, but they were going to hold public consultations with education stakeholders. They include the Saskatchewan Teacher's Federation, Saskatchewan School Board Association (SSBA), and the 28 school divisions in the province.

"We've made no determination on anything, but what I can say is we're hoping to have an open and frank discussion and consider what options are available to continue to ensure that we're able to provide the best quality of education for our students," Morgan said.

Education Minister Don Morgan says nothing is set in stone when it comes to school division amalgamation and appointed school board trustees. (CBC)

Connie Bailey, president of the SSBA, told CBC News she wants to know what the government is trying to achieve through amalgamation before she considers whether or not it is good for Saskatchewan.

"What's the problem we're trying to solve when we look at transformational change in education?" Bailey asked. "Until we understand what the issues are it's difficult to go forward on any of those discussions."

Elected trustees preserve democratic process

On the notion of appointed trustees, Bailey said electing trustees and choosing local representatives are the best ways to improve education on the local level.

"We know that the best decisions happen when you are close to the people affected, so we believe that the best system for our schools is to have democratically elected school trustees."

In 2006, 81 school divisions amalgamated to 28 and Bailey said some divisions saw some benefits while others saw other costs involved.

She added about 97 per cent of school division budgets are fixed, made up of salaries and operating costs, so each division doesn't have that much wiggle room in terms of areas they can save.

Morgan said the Ministry of Education will begin to formulate a consultation process for school division amalgamation and board trustees following the budget in June, but it likely won't roll out before fall.