THE first of a series of parent town halls and meetings on sweeping education reforms was held Thursday.
Education Minister Cliff Cullen unveiled a list of 14 people who have been selected for the parent engagement task force.
The group of politicians, guardians and school administrators have been tasked with engaging the public on the future of the K-12 school system —
"We want to make sure (school community councils) are very effective and make sure that they have all the opportunities and resources they need," Cullen told reporters.
The province’s overhaul, as outlined in Bill 64 (Education Modernization Act), aims to replace the 37 English language school boards with a centralized authority made up of government appointees. While elected trustees will disappear, Cullen has said the changes will empower parents at the school level with the creation of councils located in 15 new regions.
School community councils will involve volunteer parents who can and want to get involved with their children’s school, not unlike the parent advisory councils that exist today. The reform legislation, however, gives parents powers beyond traditional fundraising roles with new advisory roles on decision-making related to school budgets and staff performance reviews, among other things.
The task force will lead 15 virtual meetings that are scheduled throughout this month and June on how parent engagement can be strengthened, and the resources needed to make the councils successful.
Dates for four telephone town halls, the first of which will be for Winnipeg families on May 27, have also been confirmed for late May and June.
Progressive Conservative MLAs, including Scott Johnston, Janice Morley-Lecomte, and Ian Wishart, a former education minister, are on the task force. Six parents were selected, as well as school principals and senior administrators who hail from Southwest Horizon, Winnipeg, Hanover, Frontier school divisions and the francophone board.
The group is expected to submit recommendations on the specific roles and responsibilities of school councils after the spring consultations.
Critics have questioned the purpose of undertaking more public engagement when the province did not listen to the K-12 review’s recommendation to amalgamate school divisions rather than abolish them altogether.
Asked about why the province is pushing ahead with Bill 64 amid widespread pandemic disruption, Cullen said, "We’re moving to redirect money, resources from the administration to the front line so the sooner we get the resources to the front line, I would say the better for teachers and the better for students."
Divisional administration accounted for 3.3 per cent of Manitoba’s $2.5-billion education budget last year. The province estimates it could find up to $40 million in savings by streamlining administrative services.
— with files from Larry Kusch
Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press