The Chinook School Board held a press conference at Fairview School in Swift Current to discuss the downfalls of the potential amalgamation.
The school division had three member to present their argument against the consolidation of the school divisions. Director of Education Liam Choo-Foo,
Board Chair Larry Caswell and Vice Chair and trustee for Ward 1 Dr. Shane Andrus spoke about the pitfalls of an amalgamation on Jan. 17.
The Saskatchewan government appointed a six-person advisory panel to lead in consultations with the public and education sector on Nov. 15 after the
Educational Governance Review Report by Dan Perrins was completed. Perrins sits on the advisory panel.
Deputy Minister and Education Minister Don Morgan said during the initial announcement there was no “end-game” to reduce the number of school divisions, though it was a definite possibility.
The Perrins proposed consolidating the 18 public school divisions into one centralized school division as the most radical option. Perrins believes one school board for the province would be more cost effective, suggesting school boards receive most of their funding through government assistance.
Changing the boundaries to four or eight school divisions is also a possibility suggested by Perrins.
Caswell explained at the press conference that isn’t entirely true, at least for the Chinook School Division.
“The people living here, in our towns actually pay the majority of our budget through their taxes,” Caswell said.
Caswell, who was on the school board during the last amalgamation in 2006, said it is more expensive to amalgamate school divisions rather than let them continuing to run as they are.
In the long term, consolidating the school boards will not in the long run cut costs the government is hoping to save, based on how it was done 10 years before and the quick time-frame the government is working on, Dr. Andrus said.
Not only is it suggested the amalgamation of the public school would not be cost effective but it will greatly affect the students.
“The last amalgamation held back education for at least five years,” Dr. Andrus said adding it was only recently Chinook was able to get their “feet back under them.”
Currently Chinook School Division has a very low pupil-teacher ratio, Choo-Foo said that will be affected by a change in boundary lines.
“We will likely see a greater student-teacher ratio, in Chinook especially,” Choo-Foo said, adding there will also be less support for teacher development moving forward as well.
A very real possibility, according to the three members of the Chinook School Board, will be the closures of rural schools.
The government will look at the number of students attending the school as to which could be potentially closed.
“There is no legislation for choosing to close schools or where they are sent. Right now they really base it on enrollment numbers,” Choo-Foo said.
Choo-Foo did say the government tries to ensure there is a school within 40 kilometres of a K-12 school potentially being closed.
During the last amalgamation schools were closed across the province and it is possible that will happen again, according to Caswell.
“My greatest fear is to see Saskatchewan and my ward become a vast wasteland of closed schools,” Dr. Andrus said.
An amalgamation of school boards will affect professionals, teachers and students across the province, he added.
“Professionals like psychologists and pathologist all come out of a central office in the division … If we amalgamate where will they come from and how will they get out to our schools?” asked Dr. Andrus.
The advisory panel is accepting consultations from the public until Jan. 23. The panel will provide their findings to legislature in February.
All three members urged the people within the Chinook School Division to write to K12govconsultants@gov.sk.ca or fill out an online form at http://www.saskschoolboards.ca before Jan. 23 to provide consultations to the panel.
They also strongly suggest to write to your MLAs explaining why amalgamation is not wanted in Chinook.
“If the voices in our communities are heard, it will be clear that the focus needs to on students and our current structure is critical to this as school boards are autonomous and elected by our communities,” said Caswell.