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School divisions haven’t heard about elimination plans

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The Manitoba Liberals are raising red flags over a suspected government plan to eliminate school boards in the province.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/06/2018 (1688 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Manitoba Liberals are raising red flags over a suspected government plan to eliminate school boards in the province.

Despite the concerns coming out of Winnipeg, superintendents and board chairs in Westman say they have not heard of anything to suggest that the province will do away with boards or reduce trustees.

“We haven’t heard anything like that,” said Brandon School Division chair Linda Ross. “If the minister is going to do something like that, I would hope he would make an announcement about that soon, given we have an election in October.”

Tyler Clarke/The Brandon Sun Brandon School Division chair Linda Ross shares a laugh with her colleagues following a budget meeting in February.

Turtle Mountain School Division Supt. Tim De Ruyck offered a similar take.

“We are aware the government plans to conduct a review of the public education system sometime after trustee elections occur in the fall of 2018,” he said.

“We have not received any information indicating that school boards are being eliminated or that boards will be required to reduce trustees.”

On Wednesday, Liberal MLA Cindy Lamoureux asked Education Minister Ian Wishart in the legislature if he planned on getting rid of school trustees after the province removed municipal obligations to consult with school boards and ensured school tax rebates no longer needed legislation to be changed.

In response, Wishart said the government will review the K-12 education system beginning early next year.

“We would look forward to listening to Manitobans and hearing what they have to say about changing the design of the education system as we move forward.”

But in a news release sent out the same day, Lamoureux said Manitoba Liberals are “deeply concerned” that the province was not open about its plans for education, drawing similarities to the government’s actions around health care, specifically ERs, urgent-care centres and ambulance services.

“This government is known for its lack of transparency and lack of consultation, and today, the minister did not deny that he is planning to dismantle school boards and get rid of school trustees,” she said.

A spokesperson for Wishart did not say if the province planned on dismantling school boards or reducing trustees, but said the education review “will include public consultation and discuss a wide range of issues, such as education funding, role of school boards, taxation power and amalgamation.”

Some school divisions opted this year to cut the number of trustees serving on their boards as a cost-saving measure, including Rolling River and Fort La Bosse, which will go from 10 trustees to six.

The Nova Scotia government recently disbanded its seven elected school boards in favour of an appointed provincial advisory council.

Ross noted that boards in most provinces have lost their ability to levy taxes.

Should the Manitoba government dismantle school boards, Ross said the province runs the risk of losing its connection to the public.

“I think that that’s really important and so when I see (the) elimination of school boards, it makes me very uncomfortable because that means that education is being controlled centrally.”

Fort La Bosse School Division chair Garry Draper said eliminating school boards has always been in the back of their minds, but he argued that local decision-making is needed in divisions covering a large geographic area.

“But it’s the will of the government of the day, so we just have to do what the government wants to do and make it work somehow.”

Beautiful Plains School Division Supt. Jason Young described education as a “people business” and said it is harder for a central authority to respond to the needs of a community compared to a school board — he pointed to the government’s desire to bargain provincially as an example.

“The real big question is how big do you get before it’s not unique and effective for kids and effective for a community’s needs.”

» mlee@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @mtaylorlee

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