This letter to the editor was originally published in the Edmonton Journal on April 25, 2010
By Harold Neth, Public Interest Alberta Education Task Force chair
Re: "School upgrades to be done quickly; Changes are required to accommodate new students displaced from six schools closed by board," The Journal, April 15.
Parents in the Capilano, Eastwood, McCauley, Parkdale, Spruce Avenue and Fulton Place school communities are to be commended for taking a stand to keep their schools open next fall.What they ran up against is an Edmonton public school board bureaucracy that acts as though it owns the schools, a majority of school board trustees who see their role as one of rubber-stamping administration directives, a minister of education who says it is not his problem, and a provincial government that passes its revenue failures and budgetary shortfalls on to those most in need.
They are formidable forces. What the parents got to see, instead of support, was a lot of hand-wringing and a lack of vision and imagination from all levels of government.Perhaps the EPSB trustees who were willing to close the schools without questioning or seeking alternatives and partnerships with community groups ought to go back to the dictionary and check the meaning of trustee -- they hold the public good in trust for the taxpayers, the community, and the citizens of Edmonton and Alberta.
The minister has a responsibility to ensure that students get a good education; that may mean he needs to ensure that boards are exploring alternatives to school closures, including promoting discussions between boards, community groups, and municipal governments. He also has a responsibility to ensure that there is no confusion about what formula boards use in determining facility utilization. He also has a responsibility to ensure that the public investment in schools is protected.
The parents who voiced their opposition to school closures should be further commended for shining a spotlight on our elected officials and the importance of public process in good governance. The tasks of our elected representatives are to protect and develop the public interest, not give it up or abandon it.
The school closures highlight the importance of the school board and municipal elections coming up in October. If you think the school boards and/or city council need a change in how they attend to the public interest, consider running for a position or support a candidate who you know is willing to make a difference.