Political Shake-Up in East Iceland

Neskaupstaður

A controversial municipal council decision regarding area schools has sparked protests, and led to the dissolution of the council majority. Talks are currently being held for the formation of a new council majority, while school employees and many parents continue to object to the proposed changes.

Combining area schools

The story begins in Fjarðabyggð (pop. 5,070) in east Iceland, comprising the towns of Neskaupstaður, Reyðarfjörður, Eskifjörður, Fáskrúðsfjörður, Stöðvarfjörður, Mjóifjörður and Breiðdalsvík. Its municipal council has nine seats, divided between three parties: the Independence Party (four seats), the Progressive Party (three seats), and the regional party Fjarðalistinn (two seats). Up until recently, the council majority consisted of the latter two parties.

Last month, a special work group of representatives of these parties sought to make changes to the school system of the region. As Austurfrétt reported, this would entail combining all regional preschools under the auspices of Leikskóli Fjarðabyggðar, while doing away with the position of assistant principal; combining all regional grade schools under the auspices of Grunnskóli Fjarðabyggðar, also doing away with the assistant principal position; and combining all regional music schools under similar auspices, with the assistant music school director reduced to a 75% position.

The objection

When this proposal was put before the municipal council for a vote, all voted in favour except for one person, Fjarðalistinn representative Hjördís Helga Seljan Þóroddsdóttir. She contends that the move would degrade the quality of the regional schools, and objected to what she said was a lack of cooperation between the council and the schools to work out a solution.

The objection came as a surprise to other members of the council, and while the measure was passed, eight to one, the Progressive Party later announced it was ending its coalition with Fjarðalistinn.

New coalition, same problems

The Progressive Party and the Independence Party are reportedly now in talks over the creation of a new municipal council majority. Should those talks prove successful, challenges over the schooling matter will still remain.

The Icelandic Teachers’ Union has objected to the proposal, which is due to go into effect in August. The union contends that the council does not have the authority to make changes of this degree. In particular, they cite regional law on residential democracy.

Similar objections have been raised by parents’ associations, citing laws for both primary schools and preschools that major decisions must be made in cooperation with parents, which these parents contend was not done.

A petition on the matter, calling for these proposed changes to be ceased, has garnered some 750 signatures. How the municipal council will respond remains to be seen.