DEAs dump on GN
“We need more support, and we have no power”
Nunavut’s district education authorities dumped on the Government of Nunavut last week, blaming it for the territory’s staggering school drop-out rate and saying DEA’s want more power under a new education act.
Part of the problem, DEA representatives say, is they don’t have enough control over matters such as the hiring, disciplining and firing of teachers and principals.
“We need more support, and we have no power,” said Jeeteeta Merkosak, who was elected chair of a new coalition of Nunavut DEAs, during a three-day meeting held in Iqaluit last week.
But ceding these powers to hire and fire staff to the DEAs isn’t something that interests the GN, or the Federation of Nunavut Teachers.
That’s partly because some DEAS, particularly ones in smaller communities, are ill-equipped to handle thorny human resources issues, said Ed Picco, the education minister.
And having individual DEAs in each of Nunavut’s 25 communities assume more responsibility could mean more money being spent on administration, rather than on teaching and classroom support, Picco said.
DEA members are already involved in the interviewing of teachers. They’re also involved in setting the dates for the beginning and end of the school year in their communities.
“District education authority” is the name now given to an elected school committee in a community. Candidates for these committees stand for election on the same day that municipal elections are held.
The new DEA coalition that met in Iqaluit last week was formed to represent the school committees in discussions with the GN on a new Education Act. They want to meet with Picco sometime this fall.
Some DEA representatives appear nostalgic for the old system, dating back from the mid-eighties until 1999, when divisional boards of education in each of the three Nunavut regions within the old Northwest Territories administered schools, forming mini-bureaucracies in each region.
These boards duplicated tasks, such as developing curriculum, in each region. But Merkosak said the divisional boards were more responsive to community concerns than the GN is now.
Other DEA members pounced on Picco for not attending last week’s meeting. But Picco said he gave notice months ago that he’d be absent.
“I don’t feel the criticism was fair,” Picco said. “I told them in the spring I wouldn’t be at the meeting.”
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. jumped into the fray this week, siding with the DEAs in a press release issued Aug. 21.
“We fully support the [DEAs’] demand for more local control over the education of our children, and the GN needs to respect this demand too,” said NTI vice-president James Eetoolook.
“The [DEAs] in the communities have been left to fend for themselves since the dissolution of the boards. DEAs have no support structures, poor communications with other education stakeholders, and limited authority. It is as if they are being set up to fail,” Eetoolook said.
NTI wants a meeting with Picco, and Premier Paul Okalik, concerning the DEAs’ demands.
The Education Act was the Nunavut government’s first bill, but it died on the order paper when the first legislative assembly dissolved for an election in February, 2004.
After a new assembly was elected, the GN held another round of community consultations. A new bill is expected to be drafted this fall, Picco said, after the DEAs have been consulted. He said the new act, which he hopes will be ready for the November sitting of the legislature, will use the rejected legislation as a template.
In the meantime, Picco said he has two binders of comments gathered from community consultations, as well as additional comments he’s received from DEAs.
Jimmy Jacquard, president of the Federation of Nunavut Teachers, said there’s no need to adjust how personnel matters are handled, because “the system isn’t broken.”
He also said the current dispute shouldn’t overshadow important roles that DEAs play.
“It’s kind of sad that the one thing coming from this meeting is hiring and firing staff,” he said.
For example, he said DEAs could be essential for getting parents more involved in schools.
“There’s nowhere near enough of that,” he said. “For a lot of parents, school is place where you don’t go.”