Right in the centre - Education system still facing changes


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

lot can happen in a year. Last March, I wrote in this space that the Province of Manitoba had received and released a K-12 education report with 75 recommendations. Then minister of Education Minister Cliff Cullen said the province had accepted all of them in spirit and principle. I noted that some, but not all, were incorporated into Bill 64.

Bill 64 went before the legislature and received a ton of negative backlash. Last March I said, “The K-12 report and Bill 64 are long overdue. Whether the 75 recommendations are the right ones remains to be seen. Rather than say each and every detail is the right direction or if all this planning will work out or not, it’s important to examine the complaints. Minister Cullen said they had to do something and he’s correct. With admin costs appearing to be high compared to other provinces and with education results appearing to be low compared to other provinces, the need for action is evident. That said, many of the premises for Bill 64 are long overdue.”

Bill 64 was withdrawn almost immediately after then-premier Brian Pallister resigned. MLAs faced a tidal wave of opposition to Bill 64 and they abandoned it. However, the problems it identified didn’t go away.

Further investigation at the time showed that, yes, admin costs were quite high, but not in all school divisions. Beautiful Plains School Division, based out of Neepawa, has admin cost that are quite low in comparison to some divisions.

Supporting education with land taxes is totally out of date. That change should have come about 40 years ago, maybe longer ago than that. Set up in the early part of the last century, it was assumed that education taxes on land was the way to go. Nearly every quarter section of land had a family with kids living on it, it was assumed that most houses and businesses had kids living on the property. With that largely being the case, it somewhat made sense to tax land to fund education. Over the decades, the province has taken over some of the funding, as they should. Education serves all people, not just property owners. Education is a service to people so should be funded by all people. Land taxes need to go towards services to land, such as roads, water, sewer and numerous other land-based service needs. If the government can switch education funding off property and onto general revenue, it will be a good thing. Land owners can then invest their tax dollars in improving, or in some cases, even just keeping their property. Farmers and commercial building owners have been unfairly burdened with education taxes and it needs to end. It is among the changes that are 40 years overdue. 

We need to remember that the last major change to the education system was in 1966 which, by the way, is 55 years ago. That was when school divisions were enlarged and widespread school bussing started.

The school boards and school trustees are almost all mad about Bill 64 and that’s understandable. Also understandable is the government’s statement that school boards have spent most of their time agonizing over local tax rates and bargaining with teachers over wages. Bill 64 claims to place teacher salary bargaining under a province-wide authority. It may make sense.

It will seem harsh, but newspapers basically stopped covering school board meetings years ago. For the two nights a month it took to cover school board meetings, it seemed like there was lot of rubber stamping going on. Board members’ hands were tied by the province and as so much of the funding was coming from the province, is that a surprise? In recent years, it has been tough to get people to run for school boards.

The third thing that jumps out is educational results. It’s reported that Manitoba is low on the Canadian charts by many measures. The figures seem to show that. Defenders of the current education system says that those results are due to poverty. Could be, and likely is, to some extent. However, if poverty were the criteria for a lack of success, it didn’t hold back my oldest brother, who served in the Royal Canadian Navy for 15 years and had a long career in business and transportation. It didn’t stop my second brother from obtaining two university degrees and serving for many decades in the Ag industry. It didn’t stop me from obtaining a University degree and a reasonably successful career in business, politics and journalism. Poverty can sometimes be an incentive to succeed even more than being born with a silver spoon in your mouth.

The teachers union will be upset because that is what they are paid to do. The school trustees will be upset because their role is being re-assigned. The support workers union will be upset, but I am not sure why, as they will likely all have jobs and there may be more jobs in teaching and support services as money is shifted.

I think everyone’s big concern is that governments of all political stripes have a huge propensity to screw things up. It’s our job as journalists, and as citizens, to make sure they don’t. If we aren’t up that task, then we are all in big trouble.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.