MASB fights for school boards

Manitoba School Boards Association President Alan Campbell stands with Garden Valley School Division Board Chair Laurie Dyck. (GREG VANDERMEULEN/Winkler Times)

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As school divisions across the province present their proposed budgets to ratepayers, they are also educating them on the educational review announced by the provincial government.
The province has stated that every aspect of education is on the table for the review and there are no preconceived outcomes.
However, that hasn’t stopped many from speculating that the review’s intent could be to dramatically change the role of local school boards or even remove them entirely.
President of the Manitoba School Boards Association (MSBA) Alan Campbell was in Winkler for their budget presentation, and said people are concerned about the potential loss of local boards.
“Our concerns at the provincial level would echo whatever you hear at the local level in terms of importance of community voice,” he said.
Campbell said local boards play an instrumental role.
“When you consider the role of schools in communities, be they communities in the core of our largest urban centres, suburbs or rural communities, the schools are often the most important piece of the community aspect of communities,” he said.
Campbell said communities events such as music, culture and more take place in schools after hours.
“The local school board is in a position to make sure that the funding and the resources and the relationships are in place because they are from that community,” he added.
However, Campbell also echoed the sentiment shared by local school boards, that they’re pleased to see a review take place.
“We’ve always been in favour of review,” he said. “We’ve been calling on a review of the education system in this province for years, so we’re happy to see it.”
“We’re not adverse to change,” he added. “It needs to be positive change for everyone, for students, families and communities and it has to be meaningful in that what comes from the review is indeed going to improve outcomes.”
Those outcomes are the core of this review. The provincial government has pointed out that outcomes in Manitoba are below other provinces while the cost of providing education is higher.
“There’s going to be meaningful conversations about contributing factors as to why Manitoba’s outcomes are different than other provinces,” he said. “There needs to be meaningful conversations as to why the cost per student in Manitoba is different than other provinces.”
Some of those answers are readily available. For example, in Manitoba local school boards fund many items that are paid for from health funds in other provinces.
That includes physiotherapy, occupational therapy, mental health clinicians and psychologists.
“When you break all of that down, it’s no wonder the cost per pupil in Manitoba is higher than in other provinces where the department of health and other faucets of the public sector share that cost.”
Campbell said school divisions have been doing a good job of reaching their residents with their concerns.
“We’re hearing a high level of understanding about what’s at stake if school boards are reduced or eliminated,” he said.
Campbell said Saskatchewan undertook a similar review and thanks to public feedback was told to leave school boards alone.
A recent Probe Research poll (September 2018) said 56 per cent of Manitobans’ first choice is to keep local community school boards while in rural Manitoba that rose to 70 per cent.
The cost of school boards is minimal averaging just half a cent on every dollar spent on education. 96 cents of every dollar spent on education goes directly to providing students with programs, supports and services.
The province did reduce school boards once before. In 2001/02 20 school divisions were eliminated to result in 37 across the province. The Fraser Institute determined there were no savings as a result.
Campbell said they will make sure local boards’ voices are heard.
“Our role is to make sure that every school board has the opportunity to meet face to face with that commission in whatever form that takes,” he said.
To weigh in on the process, ratepayers are invited to go to their local school division’s website or to