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This article was published 12/2/2019 (419 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It all comes down to what is best for students, families and communities. This is the important focus that mustn’t be lost in the coming weeks and months as the recently-appointed commissioners prepare to start the long-awaited provincial review of K-12 education in Manitoba.
As the only level of government that has been elected with the singular mandate of ensuring that community perspective and the voices of individual Manitobans are reflected in the delivery of public education in our province, locally-elected school boards stand ready to work with the government to ensure that this review maintains that focus.
Whether you look at the public schools located in the core of our most densely populated urban centres, or those found in our smallest rural and remote communities, there is one constant: schools are at the heart of communities and are direct reflections of the people they serve. Schools meet community needs not because of centralized decision-making that paints entire populations or regions with the same brush, but because of programs that are tailored to respond to those specific needs. And school boards are the vehicle that allows this to happen.
Manitoba’s public school boards are confident that the provincial review on K-12 education will be successful as long as these important facts are respected.
However, the success of the review depends entirely on the extent to which Manitobans engage in the process and understand the potential impacts of the "everything is on the table" approach endorsed by Minister of Education Kelvin Goertzen. It is difficult to understand why school-board amalgamation is being considered in this environment of fiscal austerity. The Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a conservative think-tank based in western Canada, reported that the last round of forced school-board amalgamations in the early 2000s not only failed to save money as promised by the government of the day, but actually cost taxpayers money while at the same time eroding community voices.
Manitoba’s school boards are integral to the grass-roots, day-to-day delivery of public education in this province. They are advocates working on Manitobans’ behalf to respond to the extraordinary challenges faced by students and staff in their own communities. Mental-health supports, resources to combat substance abuse, and breakfast programs to ensure children can start their school day ready to learn may not be traditional school responsibilities, but they are critical to student success and well-being.
Alternative language studies preserve the culture and traditions of local school communities. Community partnerships in fine arts enrich students’ educational experiences, while athletic programs thrive as a result of partnerships between school boards and municipalities in the form of Joint Use and Community Use of Schools agreements. These are just some of the ways school boards work to serve their communities, and they do it all for about half of one cent of every dollar spent on public education in Manitoba.
By building on existing solid relationships with our provincial, municipal and education partners, the Manitoba School Boards Association looks forward to the dialogue that will undoubtedly take place both at the provincial and local levels throughout the review, about how important the voices of individual Manitobans are in the delivery of public education in our province.
Over the last several months, we have seen countless examples of Manitobans engaging with their local school boards in the context of the MSBA's "Local Voices, Local Choices" campaign. The response has been very encouraging as we continue to push forward with our message on protecting the foundations of our democracy, providing fiscally responsible leadership of our $2.5-billion education system, and ensuring that we as Manitobans never lose sight of the fact that schools belong to communities.
As we move through the school division budget development period in February, many Manitobans will have already received or can expect an invitation from their local school board to engage with them in the annual process of in-depth budget consultation. With the recent announcement on the review of K-12 education, it is imperative that Manitobans start talking to their local school boards on the future of public education in their communities, and across our province.
Please visit www.mbschoolboards.ca to learn more.
Alan M. Campbell is president of the Manitoba School Boards Association.