Some St. Albert trustees are hopeful the new provincial government will consult with local school districts on upcoming changes to the Education Act to make sure they have the freedom to meet the needs of their community.
On June 5, the UCP government introduced a bill that they say will “modernize” the provincial education system and slated September 2019 for the date when the act will kick in.
Trustee for St. Albert Public Schools Glenys Edwards is concerned that timeline is too soon and won't allow for local consultation. Edwards is hoping the UCP delays imposing the regulations of the act to allow for time to connect with school boards on important issues.
“What concerns us is that, with any provincial legislation, a lot of the detail of how it will actually unfold in a school district is contained in the regulations that accompany the act and we need to be consulted on that.”
If the government plans to have the act kick in for September of this year, Edwards said it doesn’t leave a lot of time for consultation.
“That leaves very little time for consultation so we need to be assured by the government that they will delay the regulations until they have had ample time to consult.”
Another concern Edwards has with the act is with the restrictions lifted on charter schools.
The bill removes the cap on the number of charter schools in Alberta and Edwards said it would potentially loosen the restrictions under which the charter school can form.
“We really believe that charter schools will lead to some fragmentation of public tax dollars. We think that charter schools often duplicate and parallel publicly funded schools,” Edwards said.
The trustee added that she doesn’t see charter schools having higher educational outcomes for students or that they are advancing test scores.
Critics of the bill say the changes will put LGBTQ kids at risk and make it harder to form Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) under the new legislation but Edwards noted the St. Albert Public District introduced its first policy to protect LGBTQ students and staff in 1999 and LGBTQ folks will continue to be protected in the school district under the local regulations.
Edwards said she is happy with some parts of the new legislation, including allowing boards to have autonomy in setting their own school fees and superintendent salaries.
The trustee said in the last several years the school board has had its fees capped by the provincial government and range for the superintendent salaries restricted. Edwards said the proposed changes could hand some of the power back to boards.
“Currently, there are some restrictions around what we can charge for field trips, for transportation and for school fees, and we need the flexibility at the district level to be able to respond to our own community needs and set fees that are appropriate,” Edwards said.
Edwards added she is also very pleased with the amendments that will ensure the current residents and age requirements of the students will stay the same and not follow the changes proposed by the previous government.
On Wednesday, trustees across the province will have a chance to have a phone conference with the education minister to ask any questions they might have about the new act.