WESTLOCK — The Pembina Hills School Division will remain a member of the Public School Boards Association of Alberta (PSBAA), despite some misgivings among trustees about the value of remaining with the organization and a five per cent increase to the division’s membership fee in 2024.
During their Sept. 20 meeting, trustees voted 4-2 on a motion to remain members of the PSBAA with no restriction on which trustees attend meetings. A discussion will be held at a later point about what PSBAA events the board will actually attend.
The PSBAA is a separate organization from the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA), billing itself as “the only association representing and advocating for” public school boards and the province’s public education system.
The subject of whether to maintain the division’s membership in both the ASBA and PSBAA has been a topic of discussion for some time. Pembina Hills had originally left the association at the end of 2018, but trustees decided following an hour-long debate at the Oct. 26, 2022 meeting to re-join the PSBAA.
At the Sept. 20 meeting, secretary-treasurer Heather Nanninga noted that with the PSBAA’s 2023 fall conference and annual general meeting coming up in October, it was an opportune time to review their membership.
Given the current rhetoric around parent choice and introducing new school jurisdictions like charter schools, having a strong advocate for public education certainly made sense, she said.
“PSBAA does do a really good job of advocacy as well. They push our interests to the people who need to have that pushed,” Nanninga added.
The PSBAA also commissions some academic research that is specific to public school boards and provides access to independent service contractors if the division wants to take on a project but doesn’t have the resources to do it.
She said, the PSBAA also offers many “timely, relevant and affordable” professional development and governance sessions, which several trustees even referenced as a highlight.
On the financial side, Pembina Hills’ 2023 membership fee was just over $9,400, and when the costs of attending PSBAA council meetings were factored in, the division had spent about nearly $35,000 this year for its participation in the association.
Nanninga said the division’s membership fee would increase to just under $20,000 in 2024, though their extra costs would likely remain similar assuming trustees attend four council meetings.
Without making a recommendation, Nanninga presented three options for the board: stay as a member, leave the association, or stay but reduce participation in PSBAA events.
While the prospective cost of remaining a member with no change to attendance could cost as much as $50,000, Nanninga pointed out that leaving the PSBAA would also hurt the association, as roughly three per cent of its revenue depend on Pembina Hills’ continued membership.
Supt. Michael Borgfjord suggested the board make a decision that day about membership and then discuss the board’s level of participation at a later date.
Deputy chair Sherry Allen said she found there was a “better vibe” with the PSBAA than the ASBA, adding there was more collegiality and building of good relationships.
Noting the PSBAA is also working on growing its membership, Allen said, “The bigger the organization is, the more influence they have at the provincial level. And they are very receptive to the member voice.”
Trustee Victoria Kane said she was initially in favour of re-joining the PSBAA but pointed out that the association chair, Dennis MacNeil, only gets an hour each month to confer with the education minister.
Kane added the division could still take part in the PSBAA’s professional development without spending nearly $20,000 on membership.
Trustee Maureen Schnirer acknowledged that some of the professional development sessions were very good, but some were on the opposite end of the spectrum. That said, if the division derived any benefit from those sessions, it was worth the cost.