New bill on education means more freedom for school boards

  • May. 4, 2011 4:00 p.m.

JULIE BERTRAND/Independent reporter

A new piece of legislation tabled by Minister of Education Bill Hancock reforming the current system received its first and second readings at the assembly on Wednesday and Thursday last week, April 27 and 28.

Patty Dittrick, Clearview Public Schools trustee and president of the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta (PSBAA) was present at the legislature for both readings.

“The existing School Act that we work under now is approximately 20 years old,” explained Patty Dittrick.

“The minister felt that it was time for that legislation to receive an update.”

The association was actively involved in the process of drafting the new bill on education.

“PSBAA was very pleased to be invited by Minister Hancock to be part of the inspiring education consultation,” said Dittrick.

“We came up with a number of ideas of what we felt, as an association, would assist not only school boards but would also assist the government and also be better for our students, families and communities that we serve.”

For the association, the most important aspect of the new legislation is that it will be more enabling.

“One of the provisions that we see in the proposed legislation, which is Bill 18, is natural person power,” said Dittrick.

“We believe that natural person power will enable boards to have a greater ability to be responsive to the schools and to the community’s interest.”

The new act would give the school boards the power to hire chief superintendents without needing ministerial approval.

“In needing that ministerial sign-off, superintendents have reported in the past that they feel that they’re working for two bosses,” explained Dittrick.

Under the new legislation, people will be able to vote for any school board election and to run as trustees for any school board, regardless of their religion.

“The way the old legislation works is that if you are Catholic, it doesn’t matter where you send your children to school, it doesn’t matter which school you decided to support,” said Dittrick.

“Legally, under the School Act and the Local Authority Selection Act, just by virtue of being Catholic, you must participate in and vote for the Catholic system if you wish to vote at all.”

It’s a situation that Dittrick has seen often in the Stettler area. PSBAA doesn’t want the public to be disenfranchised anymore.

The bill will receive its third reading during the fall seating of the Alberta legislature. In the meantime, more public consultations will be taking place to identify any concerns among the public regarding the proposed changes.

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