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NNSL Photo/graphic

David MacDonald, chair of the Hay River District Education Authority, said he is extremely disappointed by Education Minister Charles Dent’s decision not to grant them a separate authority. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Education minister says no to Hay River

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Hay River (Mar 27/06) - Hay River has lost its bid to gain more control over education.

On March 23, Education Minister Charles Dent rejected a petition from the Hay River District Education Authority (DEA) for a new funding arrangement in the South Slave.

The plan would have seen the DEA become autonomous from the regional school board - the Fort Smith-based South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC). Hay River’s share of regional education funding would have all gone to the DEA.

In a letter to the DEA, Dent wrote, “The changes proposed in your petition would create an anomaly in the system that could serve as a precedent for the formation of stand-alone education bodies without the obligation to raise additional tax revenues from the community.”

DEA chair David MacDonald says the board is “greatly disappointed” by the minister’s decision. In fact, MacDonald is considering resigning as chair over the issue.

Meanwhile, SSDEC chair Anne Pischinger is pleased.

“I think the minister’s response is in the best interest of all South Slave students,” Pischinger says.

The Hay River DEA has wanted out of the SSDEC for many years, citing numerous differences in such areas as allocation of funding among communities and spending priorities.

This is the second time in five years the DEA has unsuccessfully petitioned for more power.

The DEA submitted its petition to Dent in October.

They argued that the plan would not mean any extra GNWT money for South Slave education. Instead, all of Hay River’s share of the SSDEC’s almost $19-million budget would be passed along to the DEA. That would mean an approximately $1-million increase for the community to about $7.1 million.

With the extra $1 million, which currently helps run the SSDEC regional office, the DEA would hire its own superintendent and consultants, while technically remaining part of the SSDEC.

However, Dent said there are only two types of education funding in the NWT -- the divisional education council model and the Yellowknife model, in which district education authorities raise additional revenues through local taxation.

The minister said the department is not prepared to change the models, since it would create a dangerous precedent other communities might want to follow, and “one we can’t fiscally afford.”

Dent said an extra $1 million for Hay River would mean a loss of money to the SSDEC and negatively affect other schools and services in the region.

“That’s money coming from somewhere,” he says.

In a consultation process, he found opposition to the Hay River petition from the region’s other DEAs, aboriginal organizations and municipal councils. The Hay River town council supports the DEA plan only if there is no increase in local taxation.

Dent said the Hay River DEA could consider the Yellowknife model of increased local taxation.

“If there’s an interest in the community, we could certainly work that out,” he said.

However, MacDonald said the Hay River DEA won’t be doing that.

“We never intended to even consider that as a possibility.”

MacDonald said Hay River doesn’t have the population base to raise over an extra $1 million in school tax.

“We wouldn’t have a chance of getting public support,” he said.

In Hay River, about $460,000 is currently raised in school tax, which is collected as part of property taxes and submitted to the GNWT.