Big changes coming education system
RETSD board chair responds to Bill 64 ‘bombshell’
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This article was published 19/03/2021 (519 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The provincial government has big changes planned for Manitoba’s education system.
On March 15, the Progressive Conservatives released the long-awaited K-12 review while introducing the Education Modernization Act, also known as Bill 64. Both the provincial NDP and Liberal parties have stated their opposition to the bill, as did the Manitoba School Boards Association, among other groups.
Education minister Cliff Cullen said Manitoba needs a “system that is consistent, efficient and student-focused” at the press conference announcing the proposed changes.
If approved, the bill would do away with school boards across the province, with the exception of the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine, among other changes. Instead, the province would set up an education authority, which would oversee 15 regional advisory groups. Winnipeg’s six school divisions, including River East Transcona, will be consolidated into one region, representing over 100,000 students. Changes would come into effect by July 1, 2022.
Jerry Sodomlak, a trustee for ward 1 and chair of the River East Transcona board of trustees, described the changes laid out in Bill 64 as “a bombshell.”
“We knew it was coming,” Sodomlak said. “As a board, we thought we would be engaging in dialogue. But this has just been dropped on us. It went a lot deeper, with a lot more in it than we anticipated.”
Sodomlak feels that the province is not playing it straight with regards to their motivations for the wholesale changes to the education system.
“Change is important, it improves and enhances things that you do,” said Sodomlak, who has been a trustee since 2014 after spending 32 years as an educator, 26 of those in what is now the RETSD. “We do that every year with our divisional planning. You put things in place, you monitor them, you get feedback, and then you do it again and work to improve. But I don’t think that’s what this has done. They haven’t looked at how to improve it, they’ve blown it up and want to put in a whole new system, and in a disingenuous manner.”
Sodomlak noted that many of the benchmarks used in the K-12 review — inclusion, Indigenous education, success for all, for example — are already being addressed by the RETSD and others across the province.
“We’re already doing them,” he said. “One stated purpose (of Bill 64) is to close the achievement gap, but that’s a goal of every division already!”
At the press conference announcing the changes, Cullen noted that the Education Modernization Act could save upwards of $40 million. Sodomlak questioned that.
In 2002, RETSD was formed when Transcona-Springfield School was split in order to bring schools in Transcona together with schools in the River East School Division.
“We can tell you from our experience, not only did we not save money, we paid millions more,” Sodomlak said. “For one, you had employee groups coming together from different areas. Where does that contract settle? Not at the lowest common denominator.”
Questions regarding governance and equity also remain, Sodomlak added.
“We (RETSD) are the second largest with 17,000 students,” he said. “When you combine them now, Winnipeg has over 100,000 students and 250 schools. You get another region combined with 2,400 students. How is that going to improve student outcomes equitably across the system? It doesn’t make sense.”
Sodomlak added that he is hopeful there will be an opportunity for administrators, school trustees, parents and community members to work with the government on Bill 64 before it is enacted.
“It’s a tough time now, but we’re willing to work on this,” he said. “We’re hoping to be part of the discussion, and we’re hoping parents will be part of that, so when there is an opportunity to amend this, to make sure there’s a local voice, that the government hears that loud and clear so they can make changes that are beneficial for all our students and our communities.”
For more information, visit www.bettereducationmb.ca
Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Call him at 204-697-7112