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Parent tells P.E.I. MLAs district advisory councils are ineffective as Opposition tries to get school board elections reinstated

Janet Payne stands outside the floor of the legislature Tuesday night after taking part in the debate over a private members bill that would reinstate school board elections.
Janet Payne stands outside the floor of the legislature Tuesday night after taking part in the debate over a private members bill that would reinstate school board elections. - Ryan Ross

The debate over whether school boards should be elected made its way to the legislature Tuesday with a private members bill calling for elections to be reinstated.

Janet Payne, a parent of children in the Kinkora family of schools, told MLAs that parents should have a say in how their children are educated.

“I know the response to that from this government has been that there’s a new model, you believed the old model hadn’t worked and I fully respect the fact that you tried something new,” she said.

But Payne also said the model is more than two years old and she thinks its district advisory councils are ineffective.

The Liberal government, under Premier Robert Ghiz, disbanded the board of elected trustees in the former English Language School Board.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan did not reinstate school board elections, instead creating the Public Schools Branch, which involves district advisory councils.

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The Opposition called a private members bill to the floor Tuesday, which would amend the Education Act to have elections for five positions on the Public Schools Branch board of directors.

Under the proposed legislation those elections would be held alongside municipal elections.

Payne, who joined Opposition MLA Steven Myers in the legislature, said the advisory councils are mandated to meet for six hours a year and most of that time aren’t available to talk about school concerns.

“To say that that’s an actual avenue for parents to share their concerns, I believe that it is incredibly ineffective to think that six hours a year is an opportunity for parents to actually have a voice in education,” she said.

Payne compared the advisory councils to MLAs if they could have conversations with constituents but no ability to work on changes or legislation.

“We feel as ineffective as a waterproof tea bag and I’m sure that’s exactly how you would feel as well if you were simply an advisory committee that had no opportunity to make decisions about children’s education,” said Payne, who is on one of the advisory councils.

Under the current system, the Public Schools Branch has a board with three appointed directors, including the Education Department’s deputy minister.

Education Minister Jordan Brown said the board members have an extensive depth and scope of knowledge to draw on.

“I think they’re very independent in terms of what they do,” he said.

Brown said he thinks the model in place is a very good one and that a lot of thought went into it.

“I think it’s something that it needs some time to demonstrate that it has been and will continue to be successful,” he said.

Ryan.ross@theguardian.pe.ca
Twitter.com/ryanrross

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