• Jim Mosher

School boards shadow boxing as province-wide education review a moving target

Lena Kublick, a regional director of the Manitoba School Boards Association, tells a recent meeting of Evergreen trustees that the battle to protect local decision-making must be engaged. The alternative, she argues, is the potential loss of locally-tailored programming.

The battle to protect local decision-making at the grassroots of public education must be engaged, a regional director with the association that represents the province’s school boards told the Evergreen School Division board of trustees regular meeting Feb. 6.

A hand-picked commission appointed by the Pallister government last month began what’s expected to be a top-to-bottom review of the province’s Kindergarten to Grade 12 education system. The education review has already sent shockwaves throughout the education community, as teachers and the boards that hire them fight an enemy that has yet to appear in full form. But everyone involved in the education system, including parents and property taxpayers are jockeying to have their voices heard.

The Manitoba School Boards Association is in the early stages of finetuning its approach, which is premised on providing thoughtful responses to the government while strenuously advocating for local decision-making, Lena Kublick, the MSBA’s Region 3 director and chair of the board of the Lord Selkirk School Division, told the Evergreen board.

“We don’t want to react,” Kublick said during a frequently passionate presentation. “We want thoughtful responses to the directives that come from government. We are in the public engagement section of their timeline.”

She said a public release of the commission’s findings and recommendations is expected February 2020. Kublic says MSBA is using social media to advance its advocacy for continued independent local decision-making.

Evergreen, as most school divisions in the province, has been also talking advocacy and strategy. That’s great, says Kublick, because the autonomy of school boards is in the crosshairs.

“I don’t want to be alarmist,” Kublick said, frequently distancing herself from 'fear mongering' and other provocative terms. “But this is a call to arms. This is the time we have to come together. If we say nothing and do nothing, we would appear to be in agreement.”

It would be foolhardy to think local programs for students will be left intact if the government continues its cost-cutting ways, she suggested.

During the pre-consultation stage a year ago, the province made it clear there would be changes, just where and how deeply they may affect the education system and local educational programming is an open question, but Kublick fears the loss of programs tailored to the local community.

Playing the devil’s advocate, she said: “If you’re just looking at cost, the band program is very expensive. How does it connect to [educational] outcomes? Automotive shops is a very expensive program, too. So would these be places for savings?”

The government’s open-ended education review may be tainted from the get-go because the education minister has made it clear that cost savings must accrue in a restructured education system. “The government in its education review framework put in a lot of the big words and the right phrases. And they’ve also made no bones that it’s about efficiency and saving,” said Kublick.

There is a fundamental structural weakness in the commission charged with the review, she argued. There’s “a glaring absence” of a person with early-years experience. “To have that population not being represented… that’s a red flag.”

For its part, the Evergreen board last year highlighted some of the local programs that could face the knife. During a public presentation last November, it provided a list of programs that are in place. It's part of the division's advocacy that highlights unique programming.

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