School board amalgamation likely still on track for savings

James
James McLeod
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Minister says it will take years to assess board consolidation efficiencies

Last spring, when the government announced that it would fold the four English language school boards into one, Education Minister Clyde Jackman was adamant: the move would save around
$12 million.

Nearly a year later, Jackman is saying that — probably — the government will save $12 million, but it won’t happen this year.

“I’m still thinking we’re going to be at or around that $12-million mark,” he told The Telegram this week.

Although the announcement was made in the spring budget last year, the four boards weren’t formally amalgamated until September.

Jackman said it won’t be until a year after that, maybe longer, before the government really knows how much money it will save.

“We’ve got to give it a year,” he said. “It won’t be a year until September coming and then we’ll see where it all goes from there.”

It isn’t actually Jackman’s job to find the savings, though. The school board gets its funding from the provincial government, but it’s an arm’s-length entity, and it’s the one who actually responsible for finding budget savings.

The Telegram made repeated requests for an interview with somebody at the school board over the course of several days, but was told that no one was available to speak.

But in an emailed statement, spokesman Ken Morrissey said it’s much too early to say how much money the board is going to save with the amalgamation.

“At this time, it is difficult to give a figure related to savings,” he wrote.

“The district is still in the process of developing its 2014-15 budget so final information and any potential savings for the upcoming year are not yet available. We have not completed the current fiscal year to be able to provide final information, particularly in a year when the new district came into being September 1, 2013.”

The move to a mega-board will definitely save some money, though.

The new provincewide board has only one director of education, instead of one for each of the four previous school boards, and seven assistant directors and one associate director, instead of 17 before.

But other savings are less clear- cut, and there’s no way to tell when they’ll actually come into effect.

“The process to realize savings from board consolidation will likely take multiple years to occur,” Morrissey wrote.

“For example, at this time the District is still in the process of addressing the office space of the predecessor boards and disposing of those sites.”

All of this came as a bit of a surprise to Liberal education critic Dale Kirby.

“It’s surprising now that the savings may or may not be achieved this year, and may or may not be achieved until some undetermined point in the future,” he said. “That doesn’t seem to be very precise.”

And even if it does save money, Kirby isn’t entirely convinced that the amalgamation was the way to go.

He said that a single mega-board means that the decision-makers wont be in touch with local communities as much as they used to be.

“The issues on Duckworth Street and the issues in downtown

St. John’s are very different than the issues in Goose Bay or Hermitage Bay or Placentia Bay or whatever,” he said. “We’ll have to see.”

Jackman, meanwhile, said that in some ways, the amalgamation is already a success.

 

 

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Duckworth Street, Goose Bay, Hermitage Bay Placentia Bay

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