Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 7, 1999
Province backs down on francophone school board mergers
By JAY CHARLAND
WCR Staff Writer
Alberta's francophone schools are happy the provincial government has reversed its plans to merge into one province-wide authority.
The francophone schools will retain their current structure with a new board in Calgary to be phased in by September 2000, Education Minister Gary Mar announced last month before being moved to another portfolio.
"We're quite happy," said Roger Pellerin, president of the Francophone School Board Federation.
Pellerin said, however, the group would have liked to have had the Calgary board start sooner.
The department's earlier plans, announced in December, would have had Calgary up and running this year, while the latest announcement puts it off for another year.
Denis Tardif, chairman of the North Central Francophone Region, also voiced approval of the new announcement.
The plan to merge all three Alberta francophone school boards into one authority was met with widespread opposition by the francophone community.
The francophone school supporters had expected the minister to approve a consultant's report commissioned by the government.
According to Leo Piquette, chairman of the East Central Francophone Education Region, the amount of community support for the current setup was a surprise to the government.
"Over 400 letters opposing the centralization of our governance authority were sent to the minister, to MLAs and to Premier Klein by parents and organizations," he said.
Piquette, who had complained that the December announcement was "trying to make (francophones) disappear," added that "at least 14 members of the Tory caucus supported the francophone position."
The Committee on Francophone Education Governance, chaired by MLA Paul Langevin, was formed in February to address the francophone community's concerns.
However, the committee could not come to a consensus and Langevin recommended there be no change in the current structure.
Piquette said the major complaint of the rural boards was that December's announcement would have left francophone school supporters "with a less democratic representation."
He was critical of Mar, complaining that the December announcement was meant to be divisive and did cause disagreements between the boards.
He went on to suggest that the government should know from experience "that forced amalgamations do not work," and any amalgamations "should come with the willingness of all involved."
The former MLA said Mar's proposed changes would not have improved efficiency since one representative would have such a large area to represent.
He went on to say that the single board would have provided only one-tenth of one per cent savings to the francophone education budget.
This decision will leave the Peace River and St. Paul regions as is and the North Central Region will continue to be based in Edmonton as well as governing schools in Lethbridge, Red Deer and Fort McMurray.
Henri Lemire, superintendent of the North Central Region, said the board, "expects to have trustees from these areas by fall."
It will bring a recommendation shortly to the new Learning Minister Lyle Olberg "to either appoint trustees or provide for elections," Lemire said.