Northland School Division Act received third and final reading May 2

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017 4:36pm


Image Caption

Northland School Division Trustee Lois Byers speaks on April 4, just after Education Minister David Eggen introduced Bill 6, which returns an elected board to NSD. (Photo: Shari Narine)

By Shari Narine
Windspeaker Contributor


Northland School Division Trustee Lois Byers wrapped up engagement sessions with residents on May 1, the day before Bill 6, the Northland School Division Act, received third and final reading in the Alberta Legislature.

Now Royal Assent and proclamation are required and then it will be official that Northland School Division residents will be voting for their next school board.

And after not having a school board since 2010, Byers says the beginning of the four-year term will be intense.

“The first term, especially the first few years of the first term, are going to be very busy for the new trustees. There’s lot of things that are like, ‘You know what? That’s for the new board to decide.’ Trying to have enough time so there’s a gentle cycle where they’re not crazy swamped, that they have time to get in there,” she said. Byers said there may be trustees elected with previous experience so they may be “up and running much faster.”

Byers’ contract will continue for a period after the new board is elected and she will serve as a strategic advisor.

How many trustees there will be and how the wards in Northland School Division will be drawn still have to be determined.

Those details were part of the four spring engagement sessions, which were held in High Prairie, Fishing Lake, Wabasca and Fort McMurray over a two-week period.

Turnout was low – peaking at 25 in High Prairie – but Byers attributes that to residents already having plenty of opportunity for input, including community engagement sessions, which meant shorter travelling distances for participants. Residents also had the opportunity to provide feedback and comments directly to Alberta Education.

“One of the important pieces for me about Bill 6 is the flexibility in it so there’s still a lot of room for the board and its communities to define exactly how it will work. They have to add the detail to exactly how each piece rolls out,” said Byers.

The Northland School Division Act proposes between seven to 11 wards, with one trustee in each ward replacing the 23-member corporate board. The former corporate board saw each school with its own trustee.

Byers says most people favoured the higher number of nine to 11 trustees, meaning mostly two schools per ward.

“Geographics is playing a role, not making the wards too large,” she said.

Boundary changes need to be made by June 1, with the wards set through a bylaw.

Byers adds that she hasn’t been able to gauge the interest of people to run for trustee yet. But once the bill is proclaimed, informing the public about the position and its responsibilities will be her top priority.

Along with a new school board, parents will also have to embrace school councils, a movement away from the local school board committees.

“That was the other big piece (of Bill 6). That’s a big change and support for that varied. But there was a lot of people going, ‘So everybody can be a part.’ And they liked that piece,” said Byers. “This is more community, a bit more enabling that way, so there was a lot more support for that.”

The majority of members on the school council must be parents with children in that school.

“And in Northland, we know that ‘parent’ means a lot more than just biological parent. I always give that proviso. That’s understood,” said Byers.

She adds that each community can decide the make-up of their school council, including dedicating seats on the executive for First Nation and Métis representation.

“There will be learning and growing for sure,” said Byers.

When Bill 6 is proclaimed into law, Northland School Division will be the only school division in the province not to be governed by the School Act.