December 5, 1996
The following statement was issued today by Roger Grimes, Minister of Education. It was also read in the House of Assembly:
This is an historic moment for education in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Yesterday, the House of Commons passed the amendments to Term 17 of the Terms of Union between Newfoundland and Canada which were requested by this government on behalf of the people of the province. The Newfoundland Legislature, by virtue of this amendment, will now have control over the way schools are organized and administered.
In 1990, the Hon. Clyde Wells appointed a Royal Commission to study the delivery of education in the province. The Royal Commission report contained over 200 recommendations aimed at improving the educational opportunities for children in this province and removing inefficiencies in the administrative structure. Many of these reforms could not be implemented until extensive changes had occurred in the manner in which schools and school boards were administered.
After receiving the commission's report, government entered into negotiations with representatives of the denominations involved. After nearly three years of discussions, government and the denominational representatives were not successful in reaching agreement on a restructured school system. In the fall of 1995, government sought the approval of the people, in a referendum, to amend Term 17 of the Terms of Union of Newfoundland with Canada, in order to proceed with the restructuring plans.
Government took the first steps towards broad educational reform when, in November 1995, it requested the Parliament of Canada to amend Term 17. The House of Commons passed the resolution in June 1996. However, it was unnecessarily delayed in the Senate until November 27, 1996 when it was returned to the House of Commons and received final approval yesterday, December 4, 1996.
The new school districts have now been established, the interim school boards have been appointed and have hired their senior administrative staff. We are now in a position to move forward with the more substantive reforms to the education system, which will have a direct effect on improving educational opportunities and programs for students.
During September and October 1996, I conducted a series of 19 public consultations and invited public discussion on student transportation, school viability, and the designation of schools and on other matters related to the proposed reforms. Approximately 5,000 individuals attended these consultation sessions. As a result about 250 submissions were presented and in excess of 1,000 completed survey forms were returned by mail. A new draft Schools Act, and a new draft Education Act have subsequently been prepared, taking into consideration the comments received in response to the January 3 documents and the presentations, suggestions, and comments received.
The interim school boards which were appointed in August will assume full responsibility for the administration of schools by January 1, 1997. These boards have told me that they must immediately begin the process of reorganizing their schools for the 1997/98 school year. It is unfortunate that the process has been delayed. However, we are prepared with the cooperation of our colleagues in this House to do as the people of the province expect us to do; that is to move the education reform agenda forward.
While the legislation will, I expect, be introduced very quickly we remain committed to consulting with our partners in education - the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association, the Newfoundland and Labrador School Boards' Association, the Denominational Education Councils, and the Newfoundland and Labrador Home and School Federation. I expect to do this within the next few days.
On behalf of all Newfoundlander and Labradorians, I wish to publicly acknowledge the contribution of each and every member of this House of Assembly, to date, in unanimously supporting government's efforts to amend Term 17. It is imperative that, in these times of rapidly declining enrolment and scarce resources, the current complex system with its duplication of school boards, administrative offices, schools and transportation systems be fundamentally redesigned for educational excellence and fiscal responsibility. The children of the province deserve no less.