Seven Oaks School Division prides itself on being inclusive and progressive. Multiple language programs, innovative alternative learning centres, and an unrivaled promotion of the arts are a few pillars of the division’s foundation.
Officials fear this could all be in jeopardy, should The Education Modernization Act revealed by the province on March 15 come into effect in July 2022. Bill 64 proposes the dissolution of Manitoba’s 37 public school boards and the introduction of a single education authority composed of government appointees. The province would be divided into 15 regions; the six districts in Winnipeg would combine into one. (Division scolaire franco-manitobaine would remain independent from the amalgamation.)
"It’s definitely a shocker, especially here in Seven Oaks. We’ve prided ourselves in being unique, prided ourselves (in) having those programs for our students, and now all the progress that we’ve made is now at risk," board chair Greg McFarlane said.
In January 2019, the Manitoba government announced it would be undertaking a review of K to Grade 12 education in the province. The results were supposed to be released last spring, but the COVID-19 pandemic deterred this from happening. The report outlines 75 recommendations for reformation.
McFarlane believes the changes would result in clunky communication practices and reduced accountability. Whereas, as it stands, school division boards, which are made up of elected trustees, are held accountable through the election process.
"As a school trustee, I put myself out there to be accessible to the community so that if they have an issue … I can be a street away, a telephone call away, I can resolve an issue within minutes," he said.
McFarlane said the province has failed to listen to school divisions and administrations, so it will be up to caregivers and community members to put pressure on the government if they don’t like what they see.
Informal parent councils will be replaced by a School Community Council at every school. All parents and caregivers of students will be members and they will elect an executive to work with the principal on the school’s needs.
One School Community Council member from each region will be elected to the Provincial Advisory Council for Education, which will provide feedback to the minister of education.
Seven Oaks School Division superintendent Brian O’Leary said engaging caregivers has proven to be difficult in the past and he’s not sure that will change.
"We’ve had parent advisory councils for decades now and they work better in some schools than others. Often, we have parents working two jobs, driving kids to a whole bunch of activities. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of desire to come to a lot of meetings.
"We’ll have a full gym if it’s a concert and parents are getting to see their kids perform; we’ll have full stands in gyms for games — and that’s where parents want to put their energy, not into school-level governance," O’Leary said.
On a more positive note, O’Leary said he appreciates the province’s effort to resolve funding issues and establish more schools.
Funding equity has been a longstanding issue for the Seven Oaks School Division, he said.
"Our costs are low, but our taxes are high. And that’s simply unfair."
This is because there are fewer commercial properties in the division’s catchment, leaving homeowners to compensate through the education property tax levy.
The education review can be found online at bettereducationmb.ca/
The Times community journalist
If The Buggles’ 1979 breakout single were about Sydney, it might be called Print Killed the Radio Star. Before she joined Canstar Community News, Sydney was an anchor and a reporter for a few local news radio stations in rural Manitoba. After realizing she enjoyed writing more than speaking, Sydney moved to Winnipeg just months after graduating from Carleton University in Ottawa with degrees in journalism and geography. Through clenched teeth and frostbitten fingers, she has come to appreciate Winnipeg — numbing winters and all. When she’s not in the newsroom, Sydney can be found playing card games, listening to music, and writing content for her friends who are too cheap to hire a PR team. Sydney has a strong heart for community news and believes every neighbourhood, town and city is better off because of it — although she may be biased. Sydney loves learning about communities and what makes them tick, which is why she’s grateful to be a reporter covering northwest Winnipeg neighbourhoods, where resilience and innovation is abundant. She can be reached at email@example.com