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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

A lesson in learning

Dump the school board.

Yup, I said it.

It’s high time for taxpayers to demand a fairer and easier taxation system — and better education at the same time for the kids.

Simply put, the province chronically underfunds local school boards, such as Brandon School Division. The board of trustees then strikes some form of balance between the interests of the education system and the taxpaying public.

And I would dare anyone reading this — who isn’t a political junkie — to name even two of the nine men and women who meet every two weeks or so in the ’70s-rec room stylin’ J.L. Milne Board Room on Sixth Street.

Every four years, you are bombarded with various bits of information from 15 or more candidates for school trustee.

The majority of people who vote haven’t a clue who most of the candidates are or what their political platforms consist of. So they might just tick off the couple of names they might recognize and — oh snap! We have a school board. Of sorts.

And this group of folks (who I will argue get elected a lot more by chance, than by considered choice) are then put in charge of a budget that this year is nearly $90 million. That is considerably more than the City of Brandon’s approximately $75 million spending plan for this year.

But there is so much more scrutiny paid to the machinations of Brandon City Council, while the effect the school board has on your wallet is equal or greater, once all is said and done.

The trustees are mostly all very nice folks, but they spend hours and hours being pushed, pulled and prodded to try to ensure they are spending enough money to give our kids the proper education.

Oh, and also to handle the health-care needs of severely handicapped students — some are unteachable and prone to violent outbursts and in need of 24-7 supervision — who might be better off in a more institutional environment.

Then there is the issue of dealing with existing gangs or young offenders on probation who are in the halls and occasionally even the classrooms.

Many punks should be locked up, but our mollycoddling legal system simply downloads what is essentially a justice responsibility onto the school divisions.

Does anyone even know what it costs to handle these special needs kids versus the cost for a ‘regular’ student?

Yeah, I’m dropping all the politically correct buzzwords favoured by CBC announcers to give some straight talk today.

Not that my "tax-and-spend terrorists" line from last column’s diatribe against the Selinger government wasn’t rather unvarnished.

I’m paid to take provocative stands on issues, as long as my writing is "rooted in fact and experience, not just opinion or kneejerk ideology." I copied that last bit from a CBC executive defending their staff’s actions.

Thought it sounded good.

But I digress.

Each year the same knucklehead shell game is played between the BSD and the province over funding the public school system.

Well, actually two of the BSD institutions are essentially faith-based private schools — funded by you and me — as their enrolment is kinda, sorta restricted to Catholics or Mennonites.

But that’s something the BSD rarely talks about.

However that’s a story I’ve told here before. I like bringing it up once in a while since it is your tax dollars, fine readers.

There are 22 schools in the Brandon School Division, 19 of which are located within the City of Brandon.

I just ask you — why does any part of Manitoba need school boards? I argue it’s just extra bureaucracy and often is simply a kindergarten for aspiring politicians.

Let the province run things in conjunction with existing school division bureaucracies. Let the province deal with the unions and the rich contracts they manage to land for their members.

Brandon School Division is one of the fastest growing divisions in Manitoba. It needs to be properly funded by a responsible provincial government.

The Opposition Progressive Conservatives claim the Selinger government is spending well below the national per capita average on education.

If the Tories are serious about wanting to improve education in Manitoba — and to also reinforce the party’s smaller government mantra — they should run on a platform that would eliminate school boards, or they could find themselves playing the same fiscal shell game when (yup, I said it) they come into power in 2016.

It’s high time to make the MLAs accountable for the education file. Because we all know the name of our MLA — don’t we?

•••

So why isn’t Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell running for mayor this fall?

Simply put, the timing wasn’t right and he really does enjoy his current job.

The numbers weren’t there, as a recent Probe/Brandon Sun poll showed, as it certainly looks like the incumbent plans to let her name stand sometime between now and the official start of the campaign period for mayoral candidates, May 1.

Running against Mayor Shari Decter Hirst — an NDPer — would split the left vote and ensure a victory for the right-leaning business-backed Rick Chrest.

So Caldwell will happily remain as Brandon East NDP MLA and fight the good fight for his seat come the expected 2016 election.

Current polling numbers show he will be in for the bloodiest battle of his political life.

And according to a letter I received from one Gail Cork, president of the Brandon NDP Women’s Association, Caldwell shouldn’t count on any help from me in his efforts to retain his seat — the only NDP-held constituency in Westman.

Here’s a letter I received last week:

"I have a "mainstream" message for you, Mr. Editor! Your jig should be up simply because of the extreme bias shown in the Brandon Sun. You should be ashamed of using Brandon’s main print media for your unabashed and inaccurate propaganda.

"Something that your readers might know is the fact that nearly 75 per cent of the Canadian population has a PST of eight per cent or higher. You think taxpayers’ money is abused? Not on a health care system we can rely on, medicare and pharmacare, Manitoba Public Insurance, public housing, low-rental housing and safe homes for our seniors. Don’t forget the Keystone Centre, as well as Manitoba Hydro with stable rates unlike the privatized Manitoba Telephone System.

"And, to top it off, we also had a MLA who had the foresight to enlarge the city’s boundaries.

"What we need in Brandon is a network TV station, which would give Brandonites an optional venue for "mainstream media."

"A word to Drew Caldwell: James O’Connor may call you "friend." He is not your friend! He simply enjoys creating embarrassing and unsubstantiated situations at the expense of you and the New Democratic Party."

OK. I didn’t print this as a letter to the editor as the critique of what we do here in the opinion section of the Sun is beyond the pale and is also a personal attack on myself.

Drew Caldwell is my friend. Has been for some 30 years. Talk about an ethical dilemma — a known right-wing journalist hanging out with a left-wing politician.

I also count other socialists as good friends — a couple of them being women.

But Drew doesn’t ask anything from me. In fact, I use our oft-heated discussions to my benefit to ensure I don’t become too narrow-minded in my thinking.

As much as I respect and admire Drew, I really don’t like his government.

So sure, I hope he keeps his seat — I was hoping he’d end up running for mayor — as he is a fine citizen and a good servant to the people of Brandon. But the NDP will be taken to task as I see fit in this column.

With positions "rooted in fact and experience, not just opinion or kneejerk ideology." Even if it riles the Brandon NDP Women’s Association.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 1, 2014

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Sort by: Newest to Oldest | Oldest to Newest | Most Popular 2 Commentscomment icon

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Your ignorance of the right to education for all students regardless of disability is shameful, and more suited to someone living in the 1950's than to someone in 2014 with a very large soapbox to shout from.

Mr. O'Connor, I REALLY like your pull no punches style now!

I liked it in your previous article, EndNDP, now in this article and also in the article regarding Peter Mansbridge and Rex Murphy pocketing cash for speaking engagements at events organized by the Canadian energy industry! Wow! Who knew until now?

Can you say Conflict of Interest? They can hardly berate Mr. Trudeau when they have each done the VERY same thing! Wow. Shocking!

Bravo, Mr. O'Connor, bravo for telling it like you believe it to be and for reporting the facts in the article, Peter's Patter At Petroleum Podium Prompts Pans. Wow, that's a tongue twister!

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Dump the school board.

Yup, I said it.

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Dump the school board.

Yup, I said it.

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