Celebrating EPSB and Metro School Board Advocacy

Click the underlined text to download and read our Winter Metro Board Newsletter. Like most blogs, this post is a personal reflection on provincial public education advocacy.

I’m excited for the Edmonton Public School Board to further strengthen our relationship with the Metro School Boards Group (MSBG) next year. This is easily the biggest “bang for our buck” advocacy relationship for EPSB. Together, we amplify the voices of our communities while ensuring that taxpayer dollars are maximized in the classroom. An example of this action was the ad-hoc April 20th gathering of 19 school boards during the provincial election, (initiated by the four metro school boards).

Percentage of Alberta Students by School Board:

Calgary Board of Education: 18.3%

Edmonton Public School Board: 14.5%

Calgary Catholic School District – 8.5%

Edmonton Catholic School District – 6.2%

As you can see, the four metro boards make up 47.5% of students. Calgary Public and Edmonton Public school boards alone represent a third of students in Alberta.

The other rural school boards are part of other trustee advocacy organizations such as the:

Alberta Catholic Trustees Association (all 17 Catholic School boards are members)

Fédération des conseils scolaires francophones de l’Alberta
(All 4 Francophone boards are members)

Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta (28 public boards are members. Calgary Public and Edmonton Public are not members.

Private and Charter Schools have their own lobbying groups as well.

At this time, 61 school boards in Alberta are part of the Alberta School Boards’ Association. There are 63 school boards in the ASBA (and two from the Yukon) representing 601,678 students paying $2,993,302 in membership fees.

ASBA members include all Public, Catholic, and Francophone boards from rural and metro areas. Most of the other rural school boards have very few students and very different challenges than the four metro school boards. For example, 0nly nine Alberta school boards have more than 10,000 students and sometimes in trying to be everything to everyone, individual messages and values get lost. Anecdotally, I have also heard from a few different rural public school boards that they would prefer to only be a member of the PSBAA, rather than being a member of both the ASBA and the PSBAA, because the PSBAA better articulates their public concerns on issues such as Gay Straight Alliances or Catholic School Board expansion in rural communities. Similarly, I’ve also heard from Catholic trustees who would prefer to only be members of the ACSTA.

I predict we may see a shake-up in school board representation at the provincial level (a subject for a future blog post). In 2013 Calgary Public was quite frustrated with the ASBA and moved to withhold 10% of their membership citing concerns about the value of ASBA membership. Edmonton Public Schools will be debating leaving the ASBA this fall. Personally, I resigned as Vice-President of the ASBA and you can read my letter of resignation here.

So what is the most effective way to tell the Calgary and Edmonton education story?

When I look at the political landscape and reflect upon where our board can get the biggest bang-for-our-buck, it’s by focusing on expanded and collaborative advocacy with the four metro school boards. In the municipal world, the urban and rural are not under the same umbrella. The cities are part of the AUMA (Alberta Urban Municipalities Association) while the counties are part of the AAMDC (Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties).

The four chair’s of the metro school boards regularly participate in Video Conference calls strategizing on joint issues of concern and brainstorming about new opportunities to advocate. Last year we published joint newsletters, held meetings with the Education Minister, lobbied government and opposition MLAs, and shared best practices and collaborated on emergent issues.

Being a big school board can sometimes mean “more money more problems” but there are also unique opportunities as large boards. We recognize that there is a diversity of need throughout the province (urban, rurban, and rural). As metro boards, our issues and our capacity to respond to these challenges are simply different. This isn’t to say that as metro boards we aren’t willing to support other boards or associations on an ad hoc basis when our issues align like we did with the 19 boards during the provincial election.

The best part? The Metro School Board Group partnership is virtually free. We don’t have staff, expensive travel and accommodation costs, we are focused on Alberta (as opposed to out-of-province activities) and we don’t charge a membership fee. The contribution is the opportunity cost of our time and the occasional staff support on projects. We are nimble, efficient, and effective.

Next steps…

In future, there may be need or interest in enhancing the work we do with the four metros — maybe even formalizing this partnership with a Memorandum of Understanding (or the creation of the Metro School Boards’ Association?) but with limited time and energy, I’m pleased to see the results and the relationships that have developed by focusing on the areas of shared concern.

As our board debates this fall about the merits of membership in the Alberta School Boards’ Association, it is certainly worth reflecting on which relationships provide the greatest return on investment for our students.