It almost seems that Premier MacLauchlan has a political death wish when it comes to public education in the province.
The appointment of former western school board superintendent Dale Sabean as a replacement for Pat Mella on the Public Schools Branch Board of Directors, is the most tone deaf, politically stupid, and cynical decision the MacLauchlan government has made to date, and there have been a few.
On the heels of a tumultuous school review process, in which small schools were threatened with closure, based upon the recommendations of a Department of Education report so deficient it could not be defended by department officials at public meetings, Minister Doug Currie has circled the wagons, and appointed yet another educational bureaucrat to his governing board.
That appointment comes as parents and local communities across the Island are demanding a return of elected school boards, and a more effective voice in the education of their children.
The existing multi-layered system of advisory councils and panels is a ruse, buffering and insulating government decision making from the concerns and meaningful input of parents.
Was there not a nurse, fisherman, blueberry grower, car salesman, or God forbid, even a lawyer, qualified to sit on the PSB board and represent the Island community?
How is that the board of Health PEI includes Islanders from various walks of life outside the health profession, but the Public Schools Branch board of directors is a closed shop?
There is a program called Engage PEI, where Islanders interested in serving on a government agency, board, or commission, can apply for a position. When I worked in Executive Council, the list of applicants was long and impressive. Apparently, Currie didn’t consult that list. He heard Sabien was interested, and then offered him the three-year appointment.
Now that’s what I call an open public process.
The wagons have been circled, and the public at large denied participation in the governance of their school system. The three-member board of directors of the PSB now is comprised of the deputy minister of the department, Susan Willis, as chairperson, along with former finance director of the western school board, Harvey MacEwen, and the former western school board superintendent Dale Sabean.
What do you think the chances are of that board considering reforms or changes to the school system that in any way threaten or go against the interests of administrators and the educational establishment?
I would say about as much chance as a tropical breeze at Cavendish beach in January.
This Saturday in Pictou, Nova Scotia, a Small Schools Summit will take place to discuss the future of rural education. It is an opportunity for practitioners, academics, and supporters to explore innovative approaches within the public school system.
Pictou is a short ferry ride across the Strait, and certainly not a major excursion for our Public Schools Branch officials in Charlottetown, although I doubt if any of them will be in attendance. It is supreme irony that the individuals responsible for public education in our province are not interested in learning themselves.
Director Sabean already has shown his willingness to tow the department line, in claiming that government “has added significant resources to staff to fund those schools from tip to tip.” Looking at staffing allocations for the coming 2017 school year, that is simply false, and most rural schools have been allocated fewer resources.
In the spring session of the legislature, Minister Currie made it clear that government will not return governance of the Island school system to parents, and communities, through elected school boards. In adopting that hard-fast position, Premier MacLauchlan has walked away from almost two centuries of Liberal tradition, and made us the only province in Canada that does not have elected boards.
It is a disgrace, and the ceding of total control over public education to a deputy minister, directly accountable to the premier, and two former senior bureaucrats, will carry a political price for a government already out of touch with Islanders and sliding in the polls.