YARMOUTH, N.S. – Board members elected in October 2016 to serve on the Tri-County Regional School Board for four years held their final monthly meeting March 6. For those around the table it was an emotional evening.
The province’s seven elected English boards are being dissolved following the Avis Glaze report that examined the administrative structure of the education system in Nova Scotia.
“To my fellow board members, it’s been a pleasure,” said board chair Michael Drew, who was visibly emotional and near tears as he spoke. “I’m sorry our mandate was cut short and that we were not allowed to continue the work that we’re so passionate about.”
It’s only elected board members whose positions are being eliminated. Staff at central board offices remain in place. School board offices will be known as regional education centres. Superintendents will become regional executive directors who report directly to the deputy education minister.
Drew expressed the board’s appreciation for those who deliver education in this region.
“For all (central office board) staff, thank you for your tireless work . . . you make a difference,” he said. “For all staff, teachers, teaching assistants, bus drivers, custodians, thank you. You make a difference every day in the lives of our kids.”
“Superintendent (Paul) Ash, thank you for accepting our challenge to lead this board and to turn this ship around,” said Drew. “Your work has been outstanding, and we will miss working with you.”
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing around the TCRSB table. In 2014 the province’s auditor general released a report giving the board a failing grade on several fronts. Karen Casey, education minister at the time, said it was never the intention at that time to dissolve the Tri-County board. Instead the board worked with ministerial advisor Jim Gunn to address the issues and recommendations raised in the report. In October 2015 Casey said she felt confident supports and new approaches had been put in place to help the board move forward. She said the board had displayed a real willingness to address the AG’s report.
Over the years school reviews and school closure decisions had also been hard on communities, and on board members themselves.
On a brighter note, a presentation at a recent board meeting showed literacy, math and numeracy assessments for Grade 6 students have been on the rise and the board has developed a five-year strategy to see this upswing continue.
LAST MEETING BUSINESS
Prior to the TCRSB March 6 meeting, board member Pat Nickerson placed fortune cookies at the seat of each elected board member. “You can see what your future is,” she said.
But there is no future for the province’s seven elected English boards. (The CSAP’s elected French board will remain intact.)
The Liberal government’s decision to dissolve the elected boards (and replace them with a province-wide appointed advisory council), says Education Minister Zach Churchill, is to have a more coordinated and unified provincial approach.
Board members, however, disagree with taking the democratic elected voice out of the education system and worry for parents left to navigate the system themselves.
There were some presentations that took place at the board’s final meeting. One was to long-time board member Janice Francis who not only served for 20 years on the school board but was the first Mi’kmaq school board member in the province.
Acadia First Nation Chief Deborah Robinson presented Francis with a certificate of appreciation and noted that Francis will continue to do education work with the band. She was also presented with a long-service award from the Nova Scotia School Boards Association. Francis also had a parting gift to share. She presented the board with an Acadia First Nation flag.
There was also recognition of the Rotary Club for its support of the milk program in schools and a gift was given to board secretary Tanya Forrest.
One order of business that took place at the meeting was a notice of motion raised by board member Michael Alden Fells that dealt with having the RCH (Race Relations, Cross Cultural Understanding and Human Rights) committee become a standing committee of the board.
Given that there will be no more board standing committees after this month when the elected boards are dissolved – and not even a monthly meeting to vote on the notice of motion – Fells said the gesture was more symbolic and, in his opinion, historic.
“African Nova Scotians are an indigenous people,” he said. “I’m hoping at the very least this school board . . . would do the right thing and say that if we were to exist, we would exist with an RCH committee as a standing committee.”
His notice of motion was passed unanimously.
Bill 72, the province’s education reform bill resulting from the Glaze report, is before the Legislature on Thursday, March 8, for third and final reading with a vote anticipated before day’s end.
Meanwhile, elected board members in the province will be receiving a one-time payout in March to cover the remainder of their stipends until the end of their current term in October 2020. After that, says the province, the estimated $2.3 million in annual stipends and other expenses for board members will go back into the schools, with a portion of those funds going into school advisory councils.
At the Tri-County board, the elected board governance portion of this year's overall $84-million budget had been budgeted at $320,214.
The Tri-County board presented each elected board member with a small clock as a parting gift, representing their time on the board.
“We thought it was appropriate that when you leave this evening you have something to remind you of the time that you gave our students. On behalf of them thank you very much,” said superintendent Paul Ash.