BWDSB calls on province to join public, Catholic boards


By Barb McKay


The BWDSB passed an ambitious motion at its meeting last week to enter into amalgamation talks with its Catholic counterpart.


The motion, introduced by vice-chair Jim Dawson, calls for the BWDSB to reaffirm its support for a merger of the public and Catholic school boards “to create a publically-funded school board for each official language that would create better administrative economies, while creating better education for students.”


The motion was introduced, in part at least, to support another school board that introduced a similar motion, Dawson said during last Tuesday’s meeting. But the motion also takes a stab at the province’s Putting Students First Act, or Bill 115, which imposes wage freezes, imposes cuts to scheduled pay increases for teachers who have gained experience or additional education and cuts sick days by 50 per cent.


“It’s affecting our students at a grass roots level with the uncertainty of what’s happening in their school year,” said Meaford trustee Fran Morgan. “It’s a good time to bring this motion up and support our staff and through it, our kids.”


The board estimates that a merger of the public and separate boards would save the province at least $1 billion annually and be a better solution than shutting schools. Hanover trustee John Chapman said the BWDSB has always had a good relationship with the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board (BGCDSB) and the two boards already share a purchasing consortium and a transportation consortium. He said an amalgamation would benefit everyone involved.


“I think there’s never been any doubt or question around this table about where our unequivocal support rests,” Chapman said. “It’s with our staff, all staff, in terms of their due diligence in serving students across Bluewater. It’s unwavering. We are in a time of turmoil and confusion from a political stance and it’s very important that we support this.”


The BGCDSB is in the midst of a process to amalgamate with the Wellington and Huron-Perth Catholic school boards and is seeking approval from the Ontario Ministry of Education to develop a plan.


Doreen Schultz, community relations and outreach co-ordinator for the BGCDSB, said the board was caught off guard by the Bluewater motion.


“We are not considering a merger with BWDSB,” she said. “We are a distinct board. Neither is the Ministry of Education considering any amalgamations across the boundaries of language or faith.”


The BWDSB is sending a letter to the Ministry detailing its motion and sharing the motion with the Ontario Public School Board Association. The motion also calls on the province to review or repeal Bill 115 on the grounds that it undermines human rights laws, labour laws and democratic institutions, such as elected school boards, and that it is causing hardships for students, teachers and members of the education community.