English school district to be dissolved by the end of current legislative session

·3 min read
Education Minister Tom Osborne says the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District will be absorbed by the provincial government by the end of the current legislative session. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Education Minister Tom Osborne says the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District will be absorbed by the provincial government by the end of the current legislative session. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Newfoundland and Labrador is moving ahead with a plan to absorb the English school district into the provincial Department of Education.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference Monday, Tom Osborne said the board of trustees will be dismissed via amendments to provincial legislation by the end of the month, when the current House of Assembly session ends.

Despite the changes, Tom Osborne said, the government does not anticipate mass layoffs.

"The hope is that we can look at [and] review the employees in place, determine retirement eligibility and achieve fiscal efficiencies over the next three, four, five years as people retire," Osborne said.

An interim board will see the district's absorption into the provincial government said Osborne, mostly made of current members of the NLESD's board of trustees.

Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

"They understand the operation [of the NLESD], they've guided us well through COVID," Osborne said. "I have absolutely nothing but praise for the current board of trustees."

The interim board will have fewer trustees than the current board, which has 17 members and three vacant seats. Osborne said some provincial government representatives will join the interim board.

"We will be going to the independent appointments commission to put in place a more permanent board over the next 12 months," Osborne said.

A transition team will be appointed to oversee integration, said Osborne. Its goal will be to review opportunities for shared services, such as human resources, payroll, IT and maintenance.

Osborne said the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils will be formally expanded and will have a bigger budget, to act in an advisory role to the Education Department. Any school that wants a council can form one, said Osborne.

"[This] will provide a very democratic process for each and every school in the province to have a say," Osborne said.

A public schools branch will also be created to provide direct services to students currently managed by the NLESD.

Recommendation in economic report

The absorption of the district was announced in this year's provincial budget, following a suggestion in the report by the premier's economic recovery team to eliminate the French and English school districts to spend less on administration, reinvesting the savings at the school level.

Osborne echoed that recommendation Monday.

"We should be focused on the classroom as opposed to administration," he said.

While the report said moving school district functions to the departmental level would save over $12 million annually, Osborne said Monday a more precise number will be determined later by the transition team.

Tony Stack, CEO and director of the English school district, has agreed to stay in his role during the transition.

"Ultimately, whatever we do here has to impact the school[s] in a positive way," said Stack at Monday's briefing.

Trent Langdon, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association, said if the province truly wants changes that benefit students — and not a reduction of services — the union needs to be included.

"We really need to be part of the process, and make sure we're consulted," said Langdon, who said that so far government consultation with the NLTA has "just been a phone call."

Osborne said further consultations will be done once the transition board and team are in place.

While the economic recovery team's report also recommended absorbing the francophone school district, the provincial government announced last week that would not happen.

Marie Isabelle Rochon/CBC
Marie Isabelle Rochon/CBC

Kim Christianson, CEO and director of education and CEO of the Conseil scolaire francophone provincial de
Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador, said in a news release that she is heartened that the education minister has recognized the community's "constitutional rights" in allowing the Francophone school board to continue operation.

Osborne said the provincial government "didn't spend a lot of time or effort looking at the constitutional issues" but understands there are constitutional issues.

With only 350 students governed by the francophone school board, he said, the provincial government can find savings by working with the district rather than absorbing it into the provincial government.

The provincial government expects the NLESD's transition to take 12 to 18 months.

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