Manitoba’s Education Minister is trying to crack down on what he calls misinformation around his government’s plan to revamp the province’s education system.
Cliff Cullen announced a “fact versus fiction” provincial website Monday where he says “Manitobans can have the correct and factual information about the new education act and the Better Education Starts Today strategy.”
First announced in March, the government’s Better Education Starts Today strategy lays out a plan to eliminate all but one of Manitoba’s elected school boards, merge school divisions and set up a provincewide education authority.
The plan includes several other changes, including removing principals and vice-principals from the teachers union, and follows a review begun in 2019.
At a press conference called to give an update on the plans, Cullen accused Opposition New Democrats, the Manitoba School Boards Association and the leadership of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society of misleading Manitobans about his government’s plans.
“These parties want to maintain the status quo,” he said.
“The status quo is we’re spending the third amount per capita in the country and achieving some of the poorest results. Manitobans and students deserve better.”
Cullen has previously said the changes to kindergarten to Grade 12 schooling are aimed at cutting $40 million in administration costs and redirecting the money to the classroom.
Bill 64, currently before the legislature, would replace elected school boards in 37 school divisions — every one except the one that governs the French school division. Community councils would be set up at every school to involve parents.
Instead of the school divisions, there would be 15 geographic regions that would each elect one member to a provincial advisory council.
Read the plan here:
The council would provide input to a new provincewide education authority, which would consist primarily of government appointees. It would set many education policies and centralize collective bargaining, procurement and workforce planning.
The government hasn’t said how many jobs could be lost by eliminating school division administrations.
While the government has said the changes would make decisions more local and more centralized, the proposed legislation is facing stiff opposition from groups such as the Manitoba Teachers’ Society and the NDP.
Manitoba Teachers’ Society president, James Bedford, said the union using information directly from the bill for their campaign against it, and added the group has had no direct communication from government about legislation that “dramatically impacts the public schools in the province of Manitoba.”
“We’ve been asking for a meeting (with the minister) since January, and we just don’t get a response — we get news conferences where he makes accusations,” Bedford told Global News following the minister’s remarks.
“I think this really highlights the need for sitting down, face to face, and having a conversation.”
In a release sent out during Cullen’s press conference, the government said under the changes there would be “no major disruptions for teachers, students and everyday life in the classroom.” The government also vowed rural and northern schools cannot be closed with out community consultation.
Cullen said government will not appoint principals under the changes, and added the community councils will increase marginalized, visible minority, and Indigenous voices in the education system.
Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew said the minister’s press conference, and the new website, are signs the government isn’t listening to criticisms around the bill.
“I think it does a real disservice that the government wants to criticize people for voicing these concerns rather than actually just take the opportunity to see why people have so many issues with what they’re proposing,” he said Monday.
“At the end of the day, what the government has here, is a series of attacks against teachers, against Manitobans, but what they don’t have, is a plan to actually make schools in Manitoba better.”
–With files from The Canadian Press and Marney Blunt