Education minister says he is ready to listen

Alberta’s new minister of Education wants to end the antagonism between school boards and the province.

Alberta’s new minister of Education wants to end the antagonism between school boards and the province.

David Eggen, speaking to elected representatives from 60 school boards at their spring general meeting in Red Deer on Tuesday, met a receptive audience.

Eggen, who is also minister of Culture and Tourism for the new NDP government under Premier Rachel Notley, admitted to the Alberta Association of School Boards that he has a lot to learn but that he is prepared to listen.

“I come here today reaching out to you in the most earnest way possible for you to help me to make sure that education here in the province of Alberta is successful, and that we have long-term stable funding in place to ensure that people know where the money is coming from and how much is to come to you as well.

“Restoring education funding is our first step toward strengthening our school system overall. We know that there’s a lot of work ahead of us, but by restoring funding to school boards our government has shown that it is willing to make investment necessary to ensure that our students are successful,” he said.

He noted that as well as the additional Alberta Education funding announced last week, he also saw to it that the autonomy of local school boards to make decisions about teacher and support staffing levels was being restored.

“I strongly believe that a democratic model must honour the people who are elected to deliver and to administer education across the province of Alberta. You were elected by your communities to make the decisions that are best for your communities, and so by allowing you the responsibility to which you are entrusted … I know we will have a reciprocal arrangement,” Eggen said.

“Now is the time for us to take down the antagonism that I know has existed over the last number of years and start to really work together as partners in public education.”

Eggen is in his third term as an MLA. He was a teacher in the public system for over 20 years, and at one time was executive director of Friends of Medicare.

He said that part of the New Democratic Party’s election platform was to restore funding to education and they are doing that.

As well, they ran to improve the quality of education in the classroom, “and you know that we will do so as well.

“And we ran first and foremost, I believe, to restore a sense of hope and optimism for the future for the public services to which we are entrusted and to the future communities that we are building for our children.”

During a question and answer session, he was asked about time lines regarding any changes to the Education Act and provincial bargaining.

Eggen said that two subcommittees have been struck but he is also looking for ASBA input as they move forward with negotiations with teachers.

He said the previous government had become very centralized on many issues, including with negotiations.

“Quite frankly, I’ve taken offence to that over the years on how much decisions were being pushed into Edmonton when they should be empowering … democratically-elected trustees.”

But at the same time, the province wants to make sure there is equity across the province in contract negotiations, Eggen said.

Regarding his priorities over the next 100 days, Eggen named a budget with long-term stable funding, addressing class sizes and inequities in the education system.

On a question about whether he would review public funds going to private education, Eggen said he has inherited an extensive structure that includes home schooling, charter and private schools, as well as public schools, and for the sake of security and stability, at this point he has no plans to change that.

“We know that we didn’t get a very large majority government here in the province of Alberta without a very strong education plank in our platform, and so we have a fundamental responsibility to deliver on those campaign promises.”

barr@bprda.wpengine.com

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