Margaret Nicholson might be a wonderful person. She may be a terrific colleague or a devoted mother, a loving daughter or a great friend. What the Chignecto Central Regional School Board member isn’t, though, is a good representative of the people who put her in office or the taxpayers who fund the system she’s tasked with helping to run.
The community of Wentworth is represented by Nicholson. Or rather, it should be represented by Nicholson. The elementary school in Wentworth is facing closure, but (to my knowledge) the only visible role the board member has played so far in this drama is voting for the closure process to proceed to the next level.
Attempts by me to get her to comment on the record have gone unanswered. No comment was available from her for an article recently published by a colleague. And a forceful email exchange between myself and the board hasn’t resulted in any response from Nicholson.
The elected representative seems to have nothing to say to the public about her apparent support for the closure of a school in a community she’s supposed to champion.
Tough times require tough measures. I get that. I’ve written often in this forum about the need to cut government spending. And yes, I am aware of the danger of being one of those people who shouts “cut, cut, cut”, but then protests when their own goodies are taken away.
But these aren’t my goodies. I have no connection to Wentworth, except my empathy for the parents of young children who will face long bus rides to and from distant schools if their local elementary school is closed.
The residents of Wentworth aren’t asking for special treatment. This isn’t a case of a handful of people deciding to move to a remote location, then demanding the province pay to educate their kids there. Wentworth was on the Trans-Canada until the super highway was put in. The residents aren’t asking for lifelong welfare, or 10 months of EI every year to sustain an unsustainable community.
They’re asking for the same thing every other Canadian gets: an education for their children.
“But they’ll still get that – they’ll just have to take a bus,” some might argue.
Not good enough. Not when we’re talking about elementary school kids, and bus rides critics argue will put their kids on buses for well over two hours a day.
How would you feel if your seven year old rode the bus for three hours every day? Does that seem reasonable? Is that the level of service we provide in this country? And will a board member publicly commit to ensuring bus rides won’t exceed two hours a day?
Then there are other accusations, uncorroborated by me. Is it true the board has inflated the amount of repairs the physical building requires? Are claims the board has underestimated how many kids will attend the school in coming years accurate?
Nicholson is silent on all these issues. Look, if there’s a compelling argument for closing the school, let the board member make it. We’re all ears. The community that elected her is waiting with bated breath. I respect a politician who doesn’t always do the popular thing, but I don’t respect a politician who does the unpopular thing, then apparently thinks she doesn’t have to explain herself to the media or her critics.
Does this board member – does this board – feel accountable to the public, taxpayers or parents? I fear they don’t. Are there naysayers on this board? My impression (I could be wrong) is that this board, regardless of what disputes may occur behind closed doors, presents a united front to the public. When did peaceful unanimity become a desired outcome in a political process? Board members should fight tooth and nail for what they think is right, for their constituents, and for the students of this region, and if they’re doing that, the board should be a tumultuous place where members have to frequently cobble together coalitions to advance an agenda.
That’s politics and that’s true political representation.
I am an advocate for radically reduced government. Not reduction on the scale libertarians seek – that’s too much – but drastic cuts in the size and spending of governments. That said, education is one of the places where I have shied away from advocating privatization. But I’m genuinely starting to reconsider.
The school board has a virtual monopoly on delivering education in this region. But it seems irrefutable residents of Wentworth would be better served if they could take their tax dollars out of the public education system (perhaps in the form of vouchers) and spend them to privately hire a few teachers to educate their kids locally.
Every Canadian should have the right to a publicly-funded elementary and secondary school education – and funds should always be available for every student, regardless of parental means – but it may be time to challenge the lack of options currently afforded parents in this province.