Bigger classes, $20-M cut to schools identified by KPMG
PMG has told Education Minister Ian Wishart there are tens of millions of dollars in savings to be squeezed out of the Manitoba public education system — immediately, if he chooses.
In its massive financial report on government spending, KPMG says it’s unfair to give $26.1 million to 22 of Manitoba’s 37 school divisions that don’t deserve the money under a complex funding formula.
The former NDP government’s formula guarantee “ensures that every school division receives at least the amount of funding provided in the prior year, regardless of changes in enrolment levels or property assessment rules,” the consultant pointed out.
Wishart reduced the guarantee last winter to 98 per cent of the previous year’s amount, but still has $20.6 million on the table the report says should not be paid out.
The education minister has promised to launch a KPMG-recommended comprehensive review of the entire $2.4-billion public school system in late 2018, following the next school board elections.
In the meantime, the consultant is urging the Progressive Conservative government to put the brakes on increased operating grants in a system that taxes property heavily and has annual costs rise well beyond the inflation rate despite stagnant or declining enrolment.
Wishart has already raised the province’s share of funding by one per cent, or $13.1 million, the lowest increase since the 1990s.
The consultant recommends increasing kindergarten-to-Grade 3 class sizes to 23 from 20 students, arguing there’s no conclusive evidence the NDP’s 20-student cap did anything to improve education outcomes. Larger class sizes would reduce spending to hire teachers and eliminate the need to build more classrooms, the report reasoned.
KKPMG said not only must costs be controlled, but spending should target opportunities for Manitoba students to hold up academically against other Canadians and the rest of the world. The province has been at or near the bottom in testing for reading, math and science for the past 15 years.
“A key imperative of bending the overall future cost curve is controlling the growth rate in education spending and understanding how resources can be retasked and realigned as a result of substantial enrolment decline and continued underperformance in national and international testing regimes,” KPMG said.
The consultant recommended freezing spending on school buses, while looking for better ways to run the system. “The annual cost of student transportation has grown significantly,” the report said.
The cost of running school buses rose in the past year by about $1.5 million to almost $88 million. There were remarkable increases in ridership, including 577 students in the Oakbank and Beausejour areas in Sunrise School Division, 435 in Brandon and 268 in Altona-based Border Land.
“Determine the current need for school closures and consult to create a fair and equitable facility optimization process,” KPMG advised.
There were 13 small schools scheduled to close when the NDP imposed a moratorium on closings in 2008. Since then, the only closures came when parents voted with their feet and literally emptied small facilities by moving their children to larger ones.
Schools have responsibility and accountability for demonstrating they’re providing value for money, KPMG said.
“Changes in the funding formula can achieve significant cost improvements,” the report said, although it warned the government to expect criticism from school divisions.
Education Minister Ian Wishart has said he will launch a KPMG-recommended review of the public education system in 2018.