WINNIPEG – School boards in Manitoba are mulling over a report that recommends the current 57 divisions be amalgamated into 21, saving about $4.5 million per year.
The report of the Boundaries Review Commission states because population is shrinking, especially in rural areas, the province should have fewer boards serving around 5,000 students each. Some rural divisions now serve less than 1,000.
Manson Moir, a member of the commission, said schools won’t need to close and students shouldn’t have to ride buses for more than an hour if the recommendations are followed.
In rural areas, decreasing the number of divisions won’t reduce costs, but some money will be freed up to spend “closer to the classroom,” he said.
The report outlines several major concerns for rural areas:
- Some communities will lose a division office, often a major employer.
- The logistics of amalgamation are daunting. Moir acknowledged there will be turf wars as communities determine where the central office is located and who will work there. “It is political,” he said.
- Each board has different contracts for employees. Some have non-unionized staff. As they amalgamate, these contracts will have to be brought into line.
Due to depopulation
Moir said most boards that appeared before the commission said they didn’t want changes. But Moir, who is also chair of the Senior Grain Transportation Committee, said change is inevitable because of depopulation. He compared the process to what happened with the Crow rail transportation subsidy. Moir said farmers could never agree on how they wanted the subsidy changed, and recently, they had to take what was given them.
“I’m asking rural people to look at this and consider it,” said Moir. “We know we aren’t perfect in our recommendations, but hopefully we’ve set some seeds of thought.
“There are some things that rural people are going to have to do differently to maintain their communities,” he said.