Louis Riel School Division led the pack last year in spending to send staff to out-of-province conferences — with its receipts totalling 15 times the bill from the province’s largest board.
Manitoba made public this week a 10-page list of 2017-19 travel expenses reported by managers and trustees across all public school divisions.
At the same time, it announced public school funding for next year, which is set to increase by less than inflation. As the province exercises spending restraint, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen has suggested divisions dig into their travel expense budgets.
The new travel expense data show over the last two years, school divisions paid more than $1 million to send employees to events as far as Europe, Kenya, and Australia. Among the conference subjects: leadership building, anti-bullying and Indigenous education.
All but one of Winnipeg’s six school divisions — with student populations ranging from about 8,200 in St. James Assiniboia to 16,500 in River East Transcona — ranked as the top-five spenders in 2018-19.
The price tag for travel expenses in Louis Riel, a division of 15,500 students, came to $58,483 last year. The Winnipeg School Division, in which 33,000 students are enrolled, spent $3,770.
"Not only does access to these education-focused events provide opportunities to learn from peers, experts and leaders in the education field, but also a chance to share learner successes, build professional relationships and discover new efficiencies or opportunities to enhance learning in the division," Christian Michalik, Louis Riel superintendent, said in an emailed statement.
Michalik said division staff continue to be "prudent stewards" of its public funds, while being transparent about its finances.
Alan Campbell, president of the Manitoba School Boards Association, said Friday the association wouldn’t take a position on the total money spent on such conference costs, but individual boards have different practices when it comes to out-of-province travel.
A school board trustee in the Interlake School Division, Campbell’s board has frozen out-of-province travel. Before that, in 2017-18, it sent a single trustee to Seattle to attend a national arts conference, at a price tag of $3,387.
Campbell said workshops teach staff lessons on critical topics, including: education policy making, Indigenous student support, and strategies for poverty reduction and mental wellness in schools. Upon return, he said they are typically expected to brief colleagues and, often, the community on what they learned.
"When there are opportunities to understand best practices and share best practices, especially between provincial jurisdictions, those are key opportunities for Manitoba school division staff to take those learnings and bring them back to Manitoba," Campbell added.
The single most-expensive trip for an individual was paid for by Pembina Trails, which sent its assistant superintendent to Toronto to attend Rotman leadership training at a price tag of $8,392 last year.
Pembina Trails superintendent Ted Fransen said in a statement the division carefully considers the investments it makes in professional development, with "our ultimate goal of improving student outcomes."
In August, the Canadian School Boards Association — which plays host to annual gatherings, many of which have been attended by Manitoba boards over the past two years — published a literature review on the research linking productive school boards and positive student achievement.
"And one of the features of effective school board governance is regular professional development," said president Laurie French.
Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.