P.E.I. Education Minister Alan McIsaac and superintendent of the English Language School Board Cynthia Fleet.
Government unlikely to take any steps to shut schools until after next election
There is danger in commissioning a report on P.E.I. schools, especially when it’s not made public. There is an immediate assumption the report sets out plans for the next round of closures of small rural and urban schools.
There are already two versions of the report out in the public domain. One suggests the $17,000 document is on finding efficiencies within the school system — a fancy phrase for closures. A second version suggests the consultant’s report deals with how other jurisdictions handle school closures. Both versions ultimately lead to the same irrevocable conclusion.
By declining to mention the report during debate in the legislature on teacher reductions and program cuts, Education Minister Alan McIsaac provided the Opposition with a powerful weapon to bludgeon the government amid allegations of secret agendas.
Based on the heated statements by Mr. McIsaac that there are no plans any time soon to close more schools, it’s likely that government will wait until after the next election before starting down that road.
Cynthia Fleet, the superintendent of the English Language School Board, said the report won’t be provided to board trustees until the fall and they will then develop a policy of their own. She also revealed there is a communications plan being developed in case school closures are placed on the agenda.
In an unusually candid interview, Ms. Fleet said the time has come to consider significant changes to the school system, including school closures, consolidation and rezoning. But before any discussions begin, the board is developing a new process for consulting with communities. That hopefully will prevent the public uproar over the first round of closures.
If the minister is serious about seeking efficiencies, he should consult local home and school associations and the provincial federation. He might be surprised at what parents and teachers come up with to deal with the issues of declining enrolments and staff reductions.
Instead of $17,000 consultant reports and communications plans, home and school associations should be working with trustees, the board and department on efficiencies. Local associations could well make their own recommendations on consolidation.
It’s a problem which parents, teachers, board and government should work on together. Government or bureaucrats usually make a decision, and then it’s a matter of spin on how to limit criticism.
It appears certain additional closures are forthcoming — it’s only a matter of where and when.
Act getting attention
Legislation passed in the spring sitting to make the Lands Protection Act more flexible and responsive to farmers’ needs make sense and are long overdue. The changes are some of the 29 recommendations submitted last year from Commissioner Horace Carver, the architect of the original legislation passed in 1982.
Mr. Carver recommended that land holding acreage limits should remain the same for both individuals and corporations, but was agreeable that landowners exempt non-arable land from their totals, up to a maximum of 400 acres for individual landowners and 1,200 acres for corporations.
There was also an exemption so landowners can deduct a percentage of leased-out land in order to create more flexibility for crop rotation. The legislation allows for these changes.
While many reports tend to gather dust on a cabinet minister’s shelf, this one appears to have the full attention of government. It’s refreshing.