School board candidate voices autonomy concerns

Matt Gardner
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George McHenry is no stranger to sweeping changes from the provincial government.

Longtime trustee George McHenry is running for another term on the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division board.

In his six terms as a trustee on the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division board, McHenry has weathered two amalgamations, including one ordered by the province. Now running for re-election, he wonders how much of a say Regina will have on the future of education in Prince Albert.

“None of the trustees have mentioned this and I’m surprised that they haven’t,” McHenry said. “The Ministry (of Education) has made several changes to the way school divisions operate in the past. Our access to the taxation base has been taken away, so of course the funding all comes now out of Regina. So we’ve lost a lot of the autonomy that we’ve had before.

“We’re dealing with a new funding formula, as well, that’s been attached to it, and so our board last time came out fairly good on it. We did OK, compared to a lot of school divisions. But that doesn’t mean (that’s) what’s going to happen in the future.”

The last major inroad by the provincial government consisted of changes to funding in 2009 that prevented school boards from setting their own mill rates for taxation. Now there is talk of alterations to the school year.

“They’ve got some impending legislation that’s going to change the structure of the school year,” McHenry said. “It’s not finalized, so I can’t give a lot of detail on it, but it does mean that our school day, the instructional time with teachers, probably will change and so will our school year. To me, it’s a concern. It’s another kind of loss of power that is being dictated from Regina.”

Although legally bound by the decisions of the provincial government, the board continues to push local concerns through verbal persuasion.

“The only thing you can do is advocate,” McHenry said. “We meet with our MLAs, we meet with the Chamber, we meet with the City. All we can do is continue to advocate. We probably can’t make any changes if the government decides to change the legislation and take things out of the school act and put it into regulations, and that’s what they’re talking about. We don’t have any control. We have to work within it. But I’m just saying, it’s a concern that I have for the future control of decision-making within our school board.”

All we can do is continue to advocate. George McHenry

McHenry has had plenty of time to see how the system works. A lifelong Prince Albert resident, he taught elementary and junior high school for 32 years before family members encouraged him to run for the school board when he retired from education in 1994.

In his 14-year tenure as an urban trustee, McHenry has overseen many major and minor capital projects, including the construction of Westview Public School and Vincent Massey Community School. During his last term, a new gym was built at Carlton Community High School as well as a $2-million education centre at Kinistino.

“We’ve had some new curriculum initiatives put out by the ministry,” he said. “I think we’ve worked hard to provide resources for our staff … with the development of board schools, our three-year plan (and) the continued review of policies that helps the board to continue to make good, sound decisions for the future.”

McHenry has two daughters that work as teachers and nine grandchildren who are students in his school division. That family connection means that reports about the quality of local classrooms are never far from his ears.

“The key to me is that when I look at education and students, I think of students that attend our schools as our most valuable natural resource that we have in our province,” he said. “If I can help to provide the proper educational opportunities for them to be successful at school, then I think I have achieved what I’ve set out to do as being a trustee.”

Organizations: Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division, Westview Public School, Vincent Massey Community School Carlton Community High School

Geographic location: Regina, Prince Albert

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