Thursday, 04 May 2017 08:00

New Rural School Board Caucus looks to lobby government

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More than 30 rural school boards in Alberta have joined forces as the Rural School Board Caucus as a way to lobby the provincial government as a group.


The caucus was officially formed earlier this spring at the Rural Education Symposium, but actually started a few years ago informally as a group of boards interested in rural transportation.
“It was fairly small,” says Stuart Angle, chair of Prairie Rose School Division’s board of trustees, and a representative on the Rural School Board Caucus (RSBC). “It had nine or 10 boards and then it grew to 19.”
Now there are more than 30 rural school boards involved with Grasslands Regional Schools board of trustees just deciding to join at their April board meeting.
The organization is free to join and its goal is simple — support rural students.
The group has a chair, vice-chair and three directors. Angle is a director with the group.
There is also a school superintendent involved who records minutes at meetings. The RSBC plans to meet three times a year when attending other events, including the Rural Educational Symposium and the spring and fall Alberta School Boards Association conferences. This will save on the expenses of having to meet as most involved will already be travelling.
There are three main areas of focus for the group. One is transportation and the fact in rural areas, the distances to transport students to rural schools is so great and the funding from the province doesn’t cover the costs.
Angle sits on the committee looking at this issue and has been researching transportation concerns for awhile. The information gathered and conclusions will be presented to the rest of the members for their review.
“Hopefully it will result in a meeting with the (Education) minister,” he adds.
Another area of focus for the group is pursuing a funding model that would work better in rural Alberta.
“The perpetual funding model doesn’t work well in rural Alberta,” points out Angle.
Part of the funding challenge is the move the provincial government has made by capping credit enrollment unit (CEU) credits for high-school students. Students may only need about 120 CEU credits to graduate after three years of high school, but due to the number of programs being offered, some Prairie Rose students graduate with between 140-160 credits. By capping it at about 120, this means anything over and above that is not funded by Alberta Education and instead funded by the school division. Areas where students may earn more credits are usually outside of the core subject areas such as the Green Certificate program or work experience.
The third area of concern is the wraparound services around mental health initiatives in schools.
“Getting (mental health) services to rural schools is always a challenge,” points out Angle. “There are limited workers and if they are spending half a day travelling, there’s only half a day of services.”
Angle points out concerns with rural education really all boil down to that is costs more for rural school divisions to deliver services with fewer students.
Members in the caucus will be kept apprised of information gathered and recommendations through emails correspondence.
The group represents all corners of the province, but Angle said there are still a few rural boards who could decide to join, increasing their numbers.
Officials with the caucus feel it is better to speak to the government as one voice when it comes to rural concerns. Angle points out rural school divisions represent only about 11 per cent of the province, so their voice often can be quieted by the majority which represents urban areas.
“The last few governments have been pretty much urban, with few connections with the reality of rural Alberta,” adds Angle. “With 62 school boards who all want different things, it can be harder for a government to determine what’s fair and equitable. If we can have a concerted effort and some consistency behind it ... what we’re after is what’s equitable ... Working together for the betterment of rural students.”

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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