Saskatoon·Point of View

Sask. should consider amalgamating separate and public school boards, professor says

A University of Regina professor says the provincial government should consider merging the public and separate school systems.

Amalgamation puts religion-focused education back to churches, homes

A U of R professor says it's time the province considers amalgamating school divisions.

A University of Regina professor says the provincial government should consider merging the public and separate school systems.

Ailsa Watkinson, a professor in the faculty of social work at the U of R's Saskatoon campus, said schools should focus on educating students and teaching them critical thinking skills. Teaching children about religion can be done at home.

"Religion can be worked through the homes the churches, but to expect in this day and age where we have a pluralistic society that this one important social service we provide is going to meet religious interests of families is something I'm arguing we can no longer accommodate," Watkinson said.

Merging schools is another way the province can save millions of dollars, she said, by cutting costs in two systems of governance and programming. Her vision doesn't mean there would be fewer teachers.

Ailsa Watkinson says the government could save millions by amalgamating public and separate school divisions. (Rosalie Woloski/CBC)

Money saved through a merger could provide money for other public services, Watkinson said. The recent cuts to disability payments aren't providing major savings for the province, whereas a school division merger could, she said.

"The savings they're going to have there are quite minor. The savings they would have if they brought together both schools would be much more and we'd have more money in the bank to provide other public services that are suffering," she said.

Saskatchewan wouldn't be the first province to move to an amalgamated system. Quebec, Newfoundland and Manitoba got rid of denominational schools, and all it takes is a request from the provincial government to the federal government.

"What it would involve is our government sending a request and an amendment to the federal government, saying we'd like to make this amendment to the Saskatchewan Act … and the government in Ottawa would probably accept it, like they've done before," she said.

Government not considering changes

In an email to CBC News, the Ministry of Education said that separate school divisions are constitutionally protected, and the government is not considering challenging that.

There are nine separate school boards in the province that educate more than 39,000 students.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story wrote that there were 400,000 students that attended separate schools in Saskatchewan. That number has been changed to more than 39,000.
    Aug 25, 2016 12:12 PM CT

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning

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