04 August 2016

Whitbourne, schools, and democracy #nlpoli

Parents in Whitbourne took the provincial government's English School District to court over the closure of the local school.

They won.

It's proof that a few determined people can use the tools at their disposal to fight for what they believe in.  They don't need some government-paid consultant, no matter what someone angling for a government job might suggest.  People need only have the courage of their convictions.



That's all you need.  That's how democracy works.

Now in the long-run the folks in Whitbourne will lose.  They will lose not because the evil system will crush them but because their school is too small to justify keeping open.  Demographics are a brutal reality.  The changes to our population are a brutal reality governments in this province have been ignoring since 1996 and the stupidity of those decisions is catching up to us.

Closing the school in Whitbourne is the right thing to do.  The school board just got to the answer the wrong way. That is why the court overturned the closure. But the thing we should all remember is that the parents should never have been put in the position whereby a gang of faceless bureaucrats could make a decision about the fate of  those children using the fraudulent cloak of legitimacy provided by the One Big Board.

School reorganisation in the 1990s was designed to produce a school system that was controlled by local school district board.  Those boards would be made up of elected representatives of the local people,  board trustees who would have ties to the community.  The education bureaucrats in Confederation Building never liked that because the boards could not be readily controlled by people skilled in the development of rubrics.

So when the Conservatives took power in 2005,  the bureaucrats told them that getting rid of all those boards would be more efficient.  A handful of boards would save money.  And the Conservatives,  naive like all newly-elected governments and assured of their own brilliance, got rid of the local boards and installed four new ones.

A few years later,  getting rid of the community boards had not saved a penny.  In fact,  education spending went up, especially on bureaucrats.  The government needed to save money so the bureaucrats told the politicians that getting rid of the four boards would save money.  So they cut those boards.

No one saved any money.  But the new system made it even easier than it had been with only four boards for the bureaucrats to do what they wanted.  The four districts at least had had elected boards even if the people had no more connection to the communities they controlled than if they'd come from Mars.

And truth be told the bureaucrats screwed around with children left, right, and centre, without a care for them at all.  The bureaucrats forced children to change schools three and four times or more in some places in junior and senior high school.  If parents had done that, they'd have been charged with neglect. The bureaucrats could get away with it because they had the power behind them and a gaggle of faceless board members so cowardly that they got upset if anyone knew who they were let alone how they voted on this school closure or another.

The board we have today has all been appointed and all have been left in place far too long.  There will be an election for new board members this fall,  thankfully, at last.    But the new board will not be able to exercise the kind of power it ought to wield on behalf of the parents it is supposed to represent. The whole idea of one big board makes no democratic sense.  It is a bureaucrat's wet dream.

Education minister Dale Kirby should include board reform on his agenda. There has to be a way to give parents and other members of local communities the role in directing schools they should have.  It is the role that would have avoided  the string of bad decisions that made the Whitbourne law suit necessary in the first place. All the parents ever needed was a place to put their courage and convictions to proper use.

Times may be hard financially, but we surely cannot miss this chance to give the people of Newfoundland and Labrador the right to a meaningful say in how their children are educated.