By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is looking at reducing or even eliminating elected school boards as part of a review of education in the province.
The Progressive Conservative government announced a commission Wednesday that will examine all aspects of schooling from kindergarten to Grade 12 and report back by February of next year. Part of the focus will be on improving literacy and graduation rates and boosting math and science scores.
Another part of the group’s mandate will be to consider reducing the number of school divisions across the province. There are six English-language divisions in Winnipeg alone.
“I think we have 290 school trustees involved with running our divisions and our schools. I’d need to be convinced that that’s the right number,” Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said.
“So it will be the mandate to look at potential consolidation of school divisions.”
The Nova Scotia government eliminated elected school boards last year and replaced them with a 15-member provincial advisory council. Goertzen said that idea is not off the table.
“Do you have less school divisions? Do you have school divisions at all? And the answers to those questions are important to determining how you pay for the system.”
The commission will be co-chaired by Clayton Manness, who cut school funding as education minister in the 1990s, and Janice MacKinnon, a former Saskatchewan finance minister who balanced the provincial budget in the mid-1990s.
The opposition parties said the makeup of the commission, which also includes human resources specialists, a retired principal and others, shows the government is focused more on cutting spending than improving the education system.
“There aren’t any … parents, there are no teachers, there is nobody who seems to have actual experience in K-to-12 education on the commission,” Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said.
“But we do have Clayton Manness … and he was a minister of education known for cuts.”
Manness said the commission is not starting its work with any predetermined outcomes and there will be public consultations.
The Manitoba School Board Association said it is open to changes, but feels having local, elected school boards gives residents in each community a say in how schools are run.
“The prospect of diminishing that opportunity for local voice in the direction of public education … will not lead to improvements in the delivery or the outcomes,” association president Alan Campbell said.
The commission will not examine the funding formula for education. Manitoba currently uses a combination of provincial funding and local property taxes for its school system.
Any changes to the funding formula will only be considered after the commission issues its report, Goertzen said.