While children across Manitoba are enjoying spring break, the Manitoba School Boards Association and its president Alan Campbell are still seeking answers from the province in anticipation of an education review which could possibly alter how public education is governed in Manitoba.
Campbell, a Teulon resident who is also vice-chair of the Interlake School Division’s board of trustees, was re-elected to a new two-year term by acclamation at the MSBA Convention, held at Delta Winnipeg on March 14 and 15. Formerly the vice-chair and Region 3 chair, he was first elected as president in a by-election last November.
“It feels good to know that I have the support of our fellow member boards and the school board trustees around the province,” he said to The Stonewall Argus and Teulon Times. “I had taken the opportunity since I was elected to get out to as many boards as I could and talk to them about the upcoming education review.”
In January, the province announced it will undergo a review of Manitoba’s public education system, but there is concern that it will recommend the amalgamation or elimination of school boards.
“I think we have 290 school trustees involved with running our divisions and our schools and I need to be convinced that that’s the right number,” said education minister Kelvin Goertzen at the press conference on Jan. 23.
In response, MSBA launched a campaign called “Local Voices, Local Choices” promoting local representation in the provincial school system. Campbell said the convention had an air of nervousness.
“Even though the education review and the commissioners who are responsible for it was announced on Jan. 23, there has been very little information provided to school boards or even just individual Manitobans since then,” he said. “The information collection period is scheduled to end at the end of May. With time running out very quickly, school boards are looking for clarity from the government.”
On March 15, board chairs had a two-hour closed session with Goertzen, which Campbell said provided more information regarding timelines, but not enough to dissuade any potential misinformation, speculation or rumours.
Giving the MSBA more cause for concern was reports that the province has hired Avis Glaze as a lead consultant. Glaze, who was also Ontario’s royal commissioner of education, also produced a report for the Nova Scotia government which led to English-language school boards being replaced by a province-wide advisory council. Campbell said while one can infer from Glaze’s hiring that school boards may be on the chopping block, he also said that Manitoba is not Nova Scotia.
“We have strong data that would suggest that 80% of Manitobans believe in the role of their local school board and they understand the importance of having the voice of Manitobans in the execution and governance of public education in the province,” he said. “We have no reason to believe that the outcome of the review or the recommendations of the commission or from Avis Glaze would include the amalgamation or elimination of school boards. Our objective is to make sure that the review leads to meaningful change and positive change that improves outcomes for students and families and improves the systems for communities that schools serve.”
Campbell also said that the MSBA would rather have discussed the state of Manitoba’s education system at the convention and many resolutions were brought to the table, including the possibility of seatbelts on school buses — drafted by the Lord Selkirk School Division — and mandatory rural practicums for teaching students.