Comment: Education centralization bad for rural Manitoba

Without a school, businesses begin to close and towns and villages disappear

As farmers and rural Manitobans, we should all be concerned about the centralization of power proposed as part of the Education Modernization Act.

Bill 64 will centralize provincial control over education by eliminating 37 democratically elected school boards and replacing them with a single provincial education authority. This education authority will be appointed by the government of the day with only two elected parent representatives for the whole province. This authority will not be accessible or accountable to parents, community members or KAP members, and it will hold all of the governing power for our education system.

If this is something that you find acceptable vis-a-vis the makeup of the current provincial government, consider whether you will be as comfortable with the same situation when a different political party forms government?

Bill 64 does not include any promise of school tax reform, but it does remove both the moratorium on school closures and the cap on the length of student bus rides. These actions clearly point towards a longer-term plan to close rural schools. Nothing is more critical to the longevity of a community than its school. When a school closes, parents, teachers and students spend their time and money elsewhere, and local businesses are soon lost as well. A town without a school will eventually lose the ability to attract young families.

We need young people. Not only to be the next generation of farmers in Manitoba, but as mobile farm equipment repair people, employees at local dealerships and agribusinesses, staff at our remaining local health-care services, and volunteers in our small communities and on boards like KAP.

Furthermore, the centralization of procurement in Winnipeg will most certainly result in large companies being awarded the majority of contracts and many small contractors who live in, work in, and support our local communities will suffer. In my local school division, approximately 100 small businesses are beneficiaries of over $800,000 in spending by the local school board. These include plumbers, electricians, fuel suppliers, co-ops, hardware stores, and mechanics — all businesses that I rely on as a farmer.

I support school taxation reform. I support reducing redundancies and finding ways to channel more money into the classrooms to achieve better student outcomes. But this bill will not achieve either of these goals. Anyone who lives in a rural area knows that when it comes to centralized decision-making under the guise of “saving money,” there is little to be saved and so much to be lost.

If we do not oppose the removal of democratically elected school trustees, we will be giving control of our communities’ greatest assets to people who will never set foot in our towns. The only way to ensure the long-term survival of our farming communities is to ensure decisions are made by local people who live, work and raise families in those same communities and who can be held accountable to their electorate.

Scott Mowbray farms near Cartwright, Manitoba. This is the text of a speech he delivered during the recent virtual spring meeting of KAP delegates.

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