The Northern Lights Public Schools Board of Trustees believes it is important for all stakeholders to work together to ensure all students have the opportunities and resources they need to learn and excel. The Board places a high priority on engaging with with its stakeholders to better understand the needs of its students, their families, and our communities. Our trustees then advocate for those needs at the local, provincial and federal levels.
The Board also encourages students and parents to use their voices to advocate for public education and changes that will benefit all students.
Board Advocacy Priorities
The NLPS Board of Trustees has identified three advocacy priorities to focus on:
Equitable funding and access to supports and services for rural students
Funding for school infrastructure and maintenance
The funding the division receives from Alberta Education does not address the challenges rural boards face in providing student with the same opportunities, resources, and supports as all other students in the province. Specifically:
- The Weighted Moving Average (WMA) formula currently used to fund school divisions does not provide adequate funding for our smaller, rural schools. If NLPS allocated funding to our schools based strictly on the provincial formula, our small schools would not be sustainable. Even with adjustments made at the division level to ensure our small schools remain viable, it is challenging to provide programming that is readily accessible in larger, urban areas.
- Students' mental health and inclusive education needs are increasing and becoming more complex. Meeting these needs is critical for students to be able to learn and excel to their full potential. Funding for rural school divisions does not take into the account the difficulty and extra costs associated with accessing those services. For instance, we often have to pay travel costs for specialists to work with students, which doubles or even triples the cost of a visit and reduces the overall number of visits available. Additionally, many of these services are often not available or accessible outside of school in our communities, forcing parents to travel long distances (Grande Prairie to see a child psychiatrist) or not access the services at all.
The NLPS Board of Trustees will advocate for:
Adequate funding to ensure that rural students can access the same opportunities, resources and supports as all other students;
A funding formula that ensures the long-term sustainability of our small, rural schools which in turn supports the viability of our rural communities;
Equitable funding to support students' mental health and inclusive education needs, which acknowledges that providing those services in rural communities often costs more than it does in urban centres;
Improved availability and accessibility of mental health services in rural communities;
Improved availability and accessibility of supports for students with disabilities in rural communities.
A shortage of bus drivers has made it challenging to provide consistent student transportation services for families in Northern Lights Public Schools. While the provincial government has announced several changes to try and address some of the issues impacting transportation, more work needs to be done to provide long-term solutions.
- The removal of the MELT program was intended to help address driver recruitment by eliminating lengthy training requirements. However, this now creates safety concerns. The MELT requirements were stringent, but necessary, particularly for rural bus drivers who do the majority of their routes on highways and rural roads. Feedback from new NLPS drivers indicated they appreciated the training and that it has helped prevent several potential collisions. Our feedback to the government was to streamline the program by removing red tape and unnecessary wait times.
- Recent increases to funding, while appreciated, still do not provide divisions and bus contractors with adequate funding to operate at a sustainable level. There have been enormous increases to insurance, fuel, parts and maintenance, and the purchase of new equipment. Many of our contractors have indicated that without the current fuel subsidy, they could no longer afford to operate.
- The recent changes announced to transportation eligibility will further compound the challenges the division is already dealing with. NLPS will need to add 12 more routes to accommodate the students who will be eligible for transportation services in September 2024.
- Rural families are disproportionately impacted by student transportation disruptions and route consolidation. In addition to lengthier bus rides due to combined/ consolidated routes, rural families often do not have alternatives when busing is not available, as most rural communities do not have public transportation options and walking or biking to school may not be possible due to distance or safety concerns.
- Safety continues to be a concern for student transportation, particularly incidents of fly bys in urban communities and on rural highways. Currently cameras are not mandatory on school buses, making enforcement difficult when an incident occurs.
The NLPS Board of Trustees will continue to advocate for:
- Appropriate training for school bus drivers that addresses student safety while not placing an undue burden on individuals pursuing the training.
- Increased funding for transportation that adequately addresses the increased costs of providing the service, and the challenges of providing services to rural and remote communities.
- Consultations with school boards and other stakeholders on the new eligibility framework to ensure realistic, attainable and equitable student transportation;
- Safety improvements, including making external cameras mandatory on buses, and enforcement of traffic safety violations involving school buses (fly bys).
The current system and funding provided for capital projects and maintenance does not address the infrastructure needs of our schools and is negatively impacting the functionality and lifespan of our existing facilities.
- Funding for maintenance of the division's facilities has decreased while costs have increased, leading the division to have to prioritize projects based on student safety.
- Capital Maintenance and Renewal funding, which is used to maintain school infrastructure (roofing, flooring, paving, heating systems) will be just $413,565 in 2023-2024. All projects have to be approved by the provincial government. The Board had requested over $6 million in funding to address deferred maintenance and make improvements related to safety and security.
- As deferred maintenance increases, it negatively impacts the lifespan of our facilities, and reduces our ability to address needs that are non-emergent. For instance, the more money that needs to be used to fix roof leaks and aged boilers, the less that is available to make changes in schools that would enhance programming for students.
- The Board no longer has the autonomy to determine how much money it can put into capital reserves or how those reserves are used. The Board needs approval to transfer funds to capital reserves and needs to specify what they will be used for when they are withdrawn. This has reduced the Board's flexibility to use reserves to address emergent issues or respond to needs identified by the community that may not qualify for current infrastructure dollars.
- Due to the length of time it takes for major modernizations and replacement schools to be approved, some school's needs have progressed to the point where a modernization may no longer be feasible. For instance, a modernization for Ecole Plamondon School has been on the division's capital plan for over 20 years. The cost and scope of the project has now escalated to the point where it may be more economically feasible to request a replacement school rather than renovate the existing facility.
The NLPS Board of Trustees will continue to advocate for:
- Increased funding to maintain schools so they are safe for students and staff and needs can be addressed in a timeframe that prevents them from becoming worse and increasing the cost of repairs.
- Greater autonomy for Boards to determine how infrastructure funding is spent.
- Greater autonomy for Boards to transfer operating dollars to capital reserves and determine how that money is spent.
- Improved timelines and processes for addressing capital project priorities (modernizations and replacement schools).
- Approval of the projects identified in the Board's Capital Plan.
- A solution for Art Smith Aviation Academy, which is located on 4 Wing Cold Lake and is currently not eligible for provincial infrastructure funding for a replacement school or modernization.
Here are some of the ways the Board has been advocating for NLPS students during the 2023-2024 school year:
How Can I Help?
Northern Lights Public Schools values the voice of students and parents/guardians in advocating for public education.
There are many ways stakeholders can get involved in advocacy:
- Write a letter or email to your elected officials. Include information about the impact the issue is having on your child and/or family and please cc your letter to our Board Chair. Feel free to use any of the information on this page. If you need more information, contact us and we will be happy to help.
- Join your school's School Council. You will have the opportunity to provide feedback to your child's school and the Board that will help us with our advocacy efforts. Additionally, through your school council, you can become part of the Alberta School Councils' Association, which advocates for education on behalf of parents.
- Take part in Parent Engagement opportunities with your child's school, the Board, and the provincial government. There are numerous opportunities to complete surveys, provide feedback, and take part in online or in person engagement sessions.
Premier of Alberta
Minister of Education
Glenn can Dijken
Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA
Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA
Fort McMurray-Cold Lake MP
How the Board Advocates for Students
The Board uses a variety of strategies to advocate for NLPS students.
- The Board connects with local MLA's, the Minister of Education and other cabinet ministers to share concerns, request assistance, and suggest solutions.
- The Board meets with local MP's and federal government representatives to share concerns and explore solutions.
- The Board generates dialogue with other local school boards to discuss mutual concerns, explore local solutions, and plan joint advocacy efforts.
- The Board colaborates with local municipal leaders to share information and discuss ways municipalities and school boards can work together to benefit schools and communities.
- The Board builds relationships with local First Nations and Metis Settlement leaders and Elders to share information and identify ways to collaborate to benefit students and communities.
- NLPS is part of the Alberta School Boards Association which advocates for all students at the provincial level. Through ASBA, NLPS collaborates with other school boards across the province, can bring forward resolutions that are used as the basis for the organization's advocacy, and explores solutions at the provincial level. In the past, NLPS trustees have served on the ASBA Board of Directors, including as ASBA President.
- NLPS is also part of the Public School Boards' Association of Alberta which advocates for public schools in the province. This is an opportunity for trustees to meet with other public school trustees and discuss issues, put forward resolutions and collectively advocate for students at the provincial level. In the past, NLPS trustees have served on the PSBAA Board of Directors, including as PSBAA President.
- At the local level, the Board also engages at every opportunity with local community organizations to discuss mutual concerns and ways to work collaboratively to benefit students.
- Trustees attend school council meetings when requested and keep school councils informed of education issues and advocacy. At least once per year, the Board meets with school councils representatives on a regional basis. The Board supports the advocacy efforts of school councils.
- The Board engages students, parents and guardians, and the community in discussions about education issues and uses the feedback it receives in its advocacy efforts. For example, in 2022 the Board offered parents and guardians the opportunity to participate in a Mental Health Survey for Parents. The data collected has been used to advocate for increased mental health resources in our schools and improved access to mental health services in our communities.