Big­ger classes, $20-M cut to schools iden­ti­fied by KPMG

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - NICK MARTIN nick.martin@freep­ress.mb.ca

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.

RUTH BON­NEVILLE / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Ian Wishart has said he will launch a KPMG-rec­om­mended re­view of the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in 2018.

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