New law to give troubled Northland School Division elected trustees for the first time since 2010

New law to give troubled Northland School Division elected trustees for the first time since 2010

Elections will take place for the Northland School Division this fall for the first time since the board was dissolved seven years ago if the Alberta legislature passes a new bill introduced Tuesday.

Education Minister David Eggen says once the new board is elected this fall, he plans to start increasing funding by 20 per cent per student to combat chronically low attendance and high school completion rates.

"I'm optimistic," Eggen said at a news conference at the Alberta legislature. "I know there's a strong appetite for improving education outcomes ... there's a strong sense of ownership through democracy that motivates people.

"I encourage people to run in these elections." 

The board was dissolved in January 2010 by then-Education Minister Dave Hancock over low attendance numbers and dismal student achievement rates.

The school division has been run by an official trustee since then, though a new superintendent was hired last August.

The new legislation aims to clarify the roles of trustees, principals and the superintendent to avoid improper interference in school affairs, including the hiring and firing of teachers.

New ward system 

The new Northland School Division Act will set up a ward system used by every other school division in Alberta.

The government is aiming to create seven to 11 wards with boundaries set by June 1. People will vote for new trustees in the fall's municipal elections.

Prior to 2010, Northland School Division was run under a unique system set up in 1965.

People voted for three to five representatives to 23 Local School Board Committees, which in turn would select a trustee to sit on the board.

Under the new act, volunteer school councils will replace the LSBCs. Trustees will also meet with a council made up of representatives of school councils and the relevant First Nations and Métis groups in their wards 

The government hopes this will keep trustees connected with the wishes of the communities. 

The priority for Northland School Division is improving school attendance. Current official trustee Lois Byers said the goal is to improve rates by five per cent a year. 

"Education hasn't been a wonderful experience for First Nation and Métis people," she said.

Working with the community can help people realize that it's good to go to school, she added. 

The Northland School Division has 2,700 students in 23 schools across northern Alberta. More than 95 per cent of the students are of First Nations or Métis descent.