When the phrase “board amalgamation” was first heard, and eventually thrust on us, some primary concerns were:
•how would it affect the present quality of education our students now receive?
•what impact would it have on the present employees of the board? and
•how accessible would trustees be to answer to the concerns of parents and ratepayers, and act on them?
After six years of dealing with a five percent cut in funding from the Ministry of Education with the NDP, and then more downsizing with the following government, the thought of amalgamation just made the trip through the gauntlet a little longer and rougher. Trying to visualize amalgamation with four other boards conjured up power struggles, turf wars, and personality conflicts—a lose-lose situation for Atikokan.
The idea of entering a partnership with one board nurtured possibilities:
•the rumoured change in funding formulas and money disbursement could mean a local decision on where to spend, instead of a down-east directive;
•the experience employees and trustees gained from the process of tendering and constructing our school could be beneficial to the Fort Frances board in building its “multi-use” facility;
•the innovative programs and teaching style Atikokan has been recognized for, combined with those from the Fort Frances board, could only enhance learning across the district; and
•the retiring director in the Fort would have a successor with a known track record and government contacts that would make the transition almost seamless.
Adding to the above that a large number of Atikokanites have roots in the district, the partnership could be workable and positive in light of the conditions imposed on us.
As a former trustee with the Atikokan board, I am very interested and concerned with how our partnership with the Fort Frances board works out. Over the past six months, I have made a point of keeping in touch with a few of those people who still play a major role in what happens within the new board. As we all know, now there is one less person in that role. I was surprised and bewildered, to say the least, to hear of the new board’s decision to seek a new director.
I know this about the now former director:
•his first question on any issue, before a decision was made, was “How does this decision affect our children?”
•his contacts and knowledge of both levels of governments could get results and answers quickly;
•he has a proven track record for leadership, common sense, and planning; and
•he played a large part, along with all employees and trustees, in getting the Atikokan board through some tough years financially, while building a new facility, without having to increase local taxes.
That being stated, I have a few questions for the trustees of the new Rainy River District board:
•Why would you be looking for a new director when you have one in place who has the ability and background needed in this position?
•By this time, in previous years, everyone in the organization knew where they stood with regard to employment, budgets, and responsibilities. Is that still the case?
•Are you applying the same standards for your staffing throughout the district?
There are more things that should, and will, be asked. I’m sure some questions could never be fully answered because of closed meeting status but please give me some answers, and clarify the rumours.
I’m reading things, hearing things, and asking questions. The future does not look bright for Atikokan in this relationship. I get the feeling our local trustee has an uphill battle in representing our interests.
I strongly believe the parent-teacher groups in Atikokan will have to loudly voice their concerns in person—and in number—with the new board.