Western trustees prepare to take a stand against consolidation

Cory Hurley
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Western School District trustee Wayne Lee.

The majority of trustees of the Western School Board have strong objections to the consolidation of school boards in the province.

They say the provincial government must stop the consolidation from four English school boards into one, and take the time needed to either review that decision or ensure it is done properly.

The issue was addressed at a Monday evening public meeting of the board in Corner Brook. Much of the debate was not whether they opposed the plan, but how they can best get that message to the provincial government.

Wayne Lee, a trustee from the Appalachia zone, voiced his displeasure — as did many of the other trustees around the table — that the Newfoundland and Labrador School Board Association, under the direction of its chief executive officer Brian Shortall, was not taking a stance on the issue. He recently told The Western Star the individual boards were making their own comments on the decision.

Lee said the chief executive officer’s soft stance and appearance that nothing was wrong was surprising.

When Don Brown, the western board’s chairman, said he would bring it to the association table when they next meet May 5 and 6, Lee said that was not enough.

He said the overwhelming majority of the people he represents, and the majority of the board of trustees, oppose the consolidation.

A motion was passed, one vote shy of unanimous, to direct the association to oppose the consolidation and to at least delay the process for a year.

“I feel, and I hope this board feels, rushing into this you are not doing any good and possibly could do a lot more harm,” Lee said. “We cannot let this go with the belief that this is a good, sound educational decision, especially in the context of the time. You cannot do justice to this between now and the beginning of the next school year.”

Paul Wilson, a Bay of Islands/Humber representative, said there was no way the local board would get the support of the association.

Despite the opposition express­ed in central, a consensus has to be reached to make a stand, Wilson said. The Eastern School District board has not expressed any opposition to the decision, and the western trustees believe they won’t.

Wilson said it is up to the local trustees to each voice their displeasure publicly.

While some around the table believe the decision is a forgone conclusion, Dennis Normore, the trustee representing southern Labrador, said they shouldn’t presume it cannot be overturned.

While there was much skepticism about whether the association would support their motion, it was determined to be important to get their choice on the record.

It was also thought the debate at that level would be beneficial. The members also said they would then decide what further actions to take following that decision.

Brown said more details are expected by the end of this week, with Education Minister Clyde Jackman expected to make an announcement regarding the transition team.

It has been suggested Brown will be part of that transition team, but that has yet to be announced, and trustee Robert Barrett questioned whether the chair would be best suited to bring forth their opposition to the consolidation.

Brown said he previously opposed the consolidation of the four boards, and stands by that. He will continue to stand up for what he believes, he said, as he serves the region on the transition team, if granted that opportunity.

“I am willing to go on that transition committee, and I will stand for what I believe to be the best possible actions to be taken for the furtherance of education, not only in the western region, but in the province,” he said. “When I see that is not happening, I will remove myself from that committee.”

Wilson said he was not questioning the integrity of Brown, but the minister would make up a committee of supporters or people who would not speak out against the decision.

He also mocked the government for its decision.

“Government is scrambling,” he said. “They made a hasty decision. They haven’t a frigging clue what they are doing. They are all running around like chickens with their heads chopped off, wondering, what do they do next?

“Clarity is not there. It doesn’t exist. We are asking for something they don’t have.”

The Western Star

Organizations: Western School Board, Newfoundland and Labrador School Board Association, Don Brown Humber

Geographic location: Western Star, Corner Brook, Appalachia Southern Labrador

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