District education authorities confronted with drastic changes

by Derek Neary- December 3, 2018

The future of district education authorities (DEAs) will be shaped over the next several months.

David Joanasie: “There’s a question around who has authority, whether it’s the DEA or the minister, on school programs, education programs and local programs.”
photo courtesy of the Government of Nunavut

Asked whether the DEAs would have less control due to a proposed overhaul of the Education Act, Education Minister David Joanasie paused for several seconds.

“There’s a question around who has authority, whether it’s the DEA or the minister, on school programs, education programs and local programs, so those areas, I think, we really need to hash out who has the final say,” Joanasie said.

He added that improving student performance and the quality of learning are the primary objectives of the pending Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act revisions. He repeated that message a few times in an interview with Nunavut News.

In an effort to create greater consistency, the Department of Education would produce three school calendars and DEAs could adopt one.

Nikki Eegeesiak, executive director for the Coalition of Nunavut DEAs, said that wouldn’t be helpful because each community has its own weather and seasonal patterns affecting the school year.

“For example, Grise Fiord’s spring is much later than our spring (in Iqaluit) or Sanikiluaq’s spring,” she said. “So this would not work for at least 50 per cent of the DEAs if they were offered only three or four options (for school calendars).”

DEAs may also lose their ability to hire and fire principals and teachers, which Eegeesiak insisted would be a step backwards.

“What if the parents are complaining? What if the teachers are not getting along with the principal?” she said. “That’s why the community voice is so vital.”

The two sides also have disagreements over school program plans, bilingual education and inclusive education.

Eegeesiak asserted that the department is striving to “centralize” authority.

“Our DEA members feel it will make it harder and create even more barriers if the department makes decisions on behalf of the communities,” she stated. “We hope the department takes seriously what the communities, members of the public and what the DEAs are saying. (The department’s) proposal was already rejected at Bill 37, where MLAs rejected it (through the previous legislative assembly in 2017).”

Joanasie said he and his department staff are certainly listening to the messages from the communities.

“The thing that we are emphasizing is that these are proposals that are being presented are discussion points. They’re not set in stone. We’re trying to hear what Nunavummiut have to say on them, on the best way forward, and how can we reach consensus on these different roles and responsibilities.”

Coalition may cease to exist

The GN is also proposing to replace the Coalition of Nunavut DEAs, the umbrella organization for all community DEAs, with a council that the government says will be more accountable and will provide more training and administrative support to communities.

Eegeesiak acknowledged that administrative support and training for the community DEAs is needed, but she said the coalition is currently not equipped to provide it with GN funding for just two staff positions – hers and a DEA coordinator. The coalition’s board feels the department should contract out the training and administrative support instead, she said.

Joanasie said the District Education Authorities Council office would be staffed by six employees who would enjoy the same pay and benefits of civil servants, but they would not be GN staff, so they would remain at arm’s length from the Department of Education.

The council itself would comprise nine members chosen by the DEAs, similar to how the coalition is selected, he said. However, unlike the coalition, the council would not fall under the Societies Act. The council would be required to submit annual reports and financial statements to the legislative assembly, making it more accountable, he said.

The coalition, which has existed since 2006, has designated seats for Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, Commission Scolaire Francophone du Nunavut and the Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuaqtiit Society, Eegeesiak noted. The coalition produces an audit and quarterly financial statements and quarterly goals and objectives, but not on a formal basis, she said.

“But all they (the department) have to do is ask us and we could,” she said. “The mechanism is already there.”

Joanasie said the council would also introduce teachers to Inuit culture and history, produce program materials to support a positive school environment and be subject to the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act as well as the Archives Act.

“If there’s any challenges that they’re facing then it’s publicly recorded through the legislative assembly,” he said, again underscoring accountability.

Despite their differences, Joanasie noted that the Department of Education has paid for coalition representatives to take part in Education Act community consultations, realizing that the organization doesn’t have a sufficient budget to cover so many flights and accommodations.

Although the GN is proposing to cease funding for the coalition after creating the council, Joanasie said it’s possible that members of coalition could transfer to the council.

“Yeah, that would very well be the case, if we proceed that way,” he said.

The deadline for input from communities is Dec. 14. The feedback will be summarized early in the new year and draft legislation for Education Act changes will be presented during the spring sitting of the legislative assembly in May or June, he said.

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