District education councillors fear their days are numbered

Cortez Deacetis
Thomas Geburt of Oromocto is chair of what may be the last Anglophone West District Education Council. (Submitted by Thomas Geburt - image credit)

Thomas Geburt of Oromocto is chair of what may be the last Anglophone West District Education Council. (Submitted by Thomas Geburt – image credit)

Some members of district education councils are raising concerns about a draft plan by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to replace school governance structures this year in a way that has fewer elected community members and fewer parent representatives.

Thomas Geburt of Oromocto said he and other DEC chairs were shown a draft model March 2 that would see DECs and parent school support committees eliminated and replaced by a provincial board and regional councils.

“It’s a lot less representation,” Geburt said.

DECs were established in the province in 2001, after school boards were abolished in 1996.

What the DECs do

Each council is responsible for things like setting policies that superintendents have to implement, overseeing trust funds, recommending school closures and setting capital spending priorities.

A council also maintain links with school parent committees, approves and monitors the district education plan and look at the expenditures plan for the district.

The school parent committee’s role includes advising principals about policies, community partnerships, and maintaining a “positive climate.” The committee also provides support for the school’s language and culture.

The draft changes call for all parent committee responsibilities to transfer to the new regional councils, said Geburt.

DEC responsibilities would be divided between the regional councils and the new provincial board.

Currently, each district has a DEC consisting of 11 to 13 members, elected for four-year terms. And every school has a parent committee with up to 12 members.

Regional council could have 12 members

With the new model, it’s not clear how many people would be on the provincial board, said Geburt, but some would be elected and some appointed.

He said he’s been told each regional council would probably consist of 12 members:

The Education Department announced in December that “stakeholders” in the education system would be working “to change decision-making processes, including how district education councils are composed and organized, and to improve community engagement.”

At the time, Education Minister Dominic Cardy referred to his 2019 green paper commitment to “better support principals, teachers, students and parents.”

He said he was looking for recommendations to “enable alignment and stability,” support student-centred decisions, strengthen relationships in the system and increase democratic participation.

He also wanted to ensure local leadership was “empowered to improve the learning environment and to be actively involved in their communities.”

Geburt and some of his colleagues are not convinced the proposed model would meet those goals.

In his area, three parents would be representing nine schools, he said, as well as a number of early childhood education centres.

Each parent representative would be responsible for schools of different sizes and grade levels in more than one community — something Geburt sees as “kind of ludicrous.”

He crunched the numbers for the whole district and found the number of parents involved in the school governance system would drop to 42 from 472.

“When I present this information to the parent school support committees, they ask the same question: where’s their voice? I’m saying, well, your voice is not going to be there.”

Parents tend to get involved in the system because they’re interested in their child and their child’s school, said Geburt. He expects participation will drop off if that link is taken away.

Ian Hebblethwaite, the vice-chair of the Anglophone East DEC, said he can’t wrap his head around how eliminating school parent committees would meet the stated goal of providing better representation either.

Submitted by Ian Hebblethwaite

Submitted by Ian Hebblethwaite

Hebblethwaite said he’s heard some possible wavering on that aspect of the plan from Education Department officials, but believes the fate of the DECs has been sealed. Steps have already been taken, he said, to start dismantling the structure.

An arm’s-length administrative support worker in Fredericton whose job title was DEC manager was dismissed from her job last week, he said.

“People are pretty upset,” said Hebblethwaite. “It seems like a slap in the face.”

Geburt and Hebblethwaite acknowledged there are issues with the current system. It’s sometimes hard to find enough people to fill all the positions. People complain they don’t want to drive long distances to get to meetings.

Denis Duquette

Denis Duquette

Alex Morton, who represents Petitcodiac Regional School on the Anglophone East DEC, said if the province wants to solve the problem of too few people running for DEC positions, it should give them more say in how things are run.

Right now if the district wants to fix something like a parking lot, he said, the request has to be sent to the provincial department and put on a list to be approved by the minister.

“You would think, if you want better democracy — better representation,” said Morton, “the local area would better understand the needs of those students, those parents and the
community and be able to make those decisions on their own.”

Hebblethwaite also favours more power at the local level.

“We have very minimal control over where the budget is spent. We don’t have much ability to hold the districts accountable for the standards they’re trying to achieve and whatnot.”

“There definitely is room for improvement. We just don’t agree with the way they’re doing it. In my mind, you don’t try and change everything at once.”

The Education Department said in a statement that no decisions have been made, discussions about a new governance model are continuing, and a preferred option should be presented to government this spring.

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