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Which trustees are out of control?

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Bartley Kives reported earlier this week in our pages that Mayor Sam says some school boards are out of control.

Alas, His Worship wouldn't name them.

So, being a citizen ever-helpful to government, let's figure it out for Mayor Sam.

The mayor also dropped broad hints this week that he's not enamoured of the NDP. Gosh, who knew?

So let's start with Seven Oaks School Division, which has the highest mill rate in the city, and second-highest in the province. All I need to type is 'superintendent Brian O'Leary' and the right wingers will go absolutely bonkers every time.

Seven Oaks is 4.8 mills above the provincial average, it spends $9,808 per student, and has 15 students per educator, so it's obviously out of control, and it's one of the divisions about whom the mayor was talking.



The provincial average spending per student is $10,364, and the provincial average is 13.9 students per educator.

Um, Seven Oaks is less than the average on both. A lot less.

You could make the same case for Louis Riel, River East Transcona, and Seine River, all below the provincial averages in those spending indicators, yet River East Transcona and Seine River are above the average mill rate.

Betcha Mayor Sam was talking about Winnipeg School Division, whose board has long had a horde of N-Dippers among its ranks.


Winnipeg School Division has Manitoba's third-highest mill rate, and it spends $10,444 per student. That's $80 above the provincial average, in a division with an exceptionally high proportion of special needs students, war-affected children, students without English as a first language, at-risk students living with poverty and unemployment and coming from high-crime neighbourhoods. Yup, certainly a case there for being totally out of control. We'll check off WSD.

Then there's St. James-Assiniboia. The mayor couldn't be talking about SJA, because its mill rate is the lowest in the city. And its per-student spending, actually the division that prides itself on tight-fistedness on taxes spends $25 per student more than the provincial average, and $581 per student more than Seven Oaks.


And that leaves only Pembina Trails S.D., whose mill rate is a tad below the provincial average. I don't know offhand the political affiliation, if any, of the members of the Pembina Trails school board, but this is a division which elects people such as Hugh McFadyen, Myrna Driedger, Steven Fletcher, Bill Clement, and Heather Stefanson, hardly a radical bunch of pinkos.

Pembina Trails couldn't possibly be considered out of control.

After all, it spends only $10,432 per student. And that's below the provincial average, actually it's $68 per student above the provincial average, and only 12 bucks a kid below spending in WSD. And Pembina Trails has 13.6 students per educator, which is below the provincial average.

So, Mayor Sam, out of those seven school boards, which are out of control?

The lesson here is that mill rates and property tax bills really don't reflect the spending habits of school divisions. Pembina Trails spends $624 more per student than does Seven Oaks, but its mill rate is 5.4 mills lower.

As long as the provincial government runs a public education system based on the assessed value of properties within a school division, and allows a school division to keep all of the education property taxes paid by stores, factories and offices located within its boundaries, then there are going to be inequities in public education, and school trustees will enjoy or be saddled with reputations for being fiscally responsible or out-of-control spendthrifts that bare no relation to what they actually spend.


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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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