Paul MacNeill- Against the Tide

PEI’s manipulative education bureaucracy continues to be a noose around the neck of Premier Wade MacLauchlan. But after two years in office it is no longer an inherited problem, it is one of the premier’s making.

Education reform was supposed to lead to a smaller bureaucracy. Anything less than three dozen fewer positions, government operatives said off the record, and the merger of the English Language School Board and Department of Education would be a failure.

Well, today the bureaucracy is indistinguishable in size.

Creation of three unelected councils to replace an elected school board - parent, principal and learning partners – was supposed to enhance transparency.

Nothing is further from the truth. In the lead up to, and during, the school review process, the Department of Education’s appointed representatives dictated what documents parent councils received and what agenda items were discussed. Information flow to principals was stuttered.

The premier and cabinet did the right thing to reject a recommendation to close rural schools. But the goodwill of that decision is being sapped by the secretive actions of the Public School Branch in its efforts to staff Island schools.

Rumours began swirling two weeks ago that massive cuts to rural teaching positions would be made. Minister Doug Currie came out and publicly said the suggestion was wrong.

Turns out Doug Currie was wrong. Either that or the minister intentionally misled Islanders knowing that less than a week later the PSB would deliver specifics of exactly what rural schools feared; rural teaching positions were being cut and transferred to larger centres. Regardless, it is just the latest in a long list of utterances that have wiped out the minister’s credibility with the public.

The staffing process adopted by the PSB is one cloaked in secrecy. It did not consult principals, as is the norm. It did not consult parent councils, which are supposed to guide education decisions on a local level. In short, the public school branch is making a mockery of the tenants of partnership and transparency. It is making a mockery of what Premier Wade MacLauchlan promised education reform would deliver.

Many of the schools that will lose teaching positions will actually see an increase in students next year; Georgetown will increase by 25 per cent, yet it’s been told to expect one fewer teacher. How does this make sense? How can any politician or bureaucrat possibly argue this will promote educational excellence?

There are two issues that must be dealt with. The first is government’s refusal to invest what is needed to make PEI’s education system truly world class, a system that will help build our population and economy. Actions like those of the past week occur because generations of Island politicians have paid lip service to true education excellence. The second issue is the continued indifference of the education bureaucracy toward needed change.

All students, regardless of where they live, deserve access to a world class education. Rural students should not be punished because populations are not the equal of urban areas. Urban students should not be punished with unduly large class sizes. If it takes investment in more teaching positions, so be it. That becomes a provincial competitive advantage.

But we cannot throw money at the system without systematic change. The government promised a slimmer bureaucracy and failed to deliver. Do it now. Change the bureaucracy and send the overflow back to the classroom.

Without systematic change the institutional biases will flourish and only continue to hurt our children, our teachers, our communities and our economy.

We’ve had enough of the broken promises and misleading comments. We’ve had enough of the ministerial bob and weave. We’ve had enough of the secrecy. We’ve had enough of the centralization of decision making into the hands of few.

Wade MacLauchlan owns the education file now, for better or for worse, and without needed change the noose will only tighten.

Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at paul@peicanada.com

Publisher

Winner of more than 50 regional, national, international awards for commentary and investigative journalism. Founder of The Georgetown Conference on building sustainable rural communities. Featured in A Good Day’s Work. Talking head for CBC Radio and TV.

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