After recent amalgamations, Manitoba contains 38 school divisions. Excluding those in the northern part of the province, which have unique financial burdens, one might expect to find relatively small spending differences between various school divisions. That is not the case. The largest division, Winnipeg #1, requires substantially more financial resources than any other in its attempt to provide a quality education.
For clarity, this data set describes spending in four key areas in the eight largest school divisions, for regular instruction, administration, transportation and operations and maintenance.
Spending patterns among these eight divisions reveal significant variability:
The largest division, Winnipeg #1, spent significantly more money per pupil than the others compared.
Hanover, the only rural school division among the eight largest has lower per pupil expenditures on each line item than the others.
With the exception of Hanover, relatively little variability takes place in per pupil expenditures on regular instruction.
In contrast, Winnipeg’s per pupil transportation costs are substantially higher than all the other large school divisions and over three times higher than Hanover, this comparison’s most efficient division.
The largest division also does poorly on operations and maintenance, with a per-pupil cost almost twice as high as Hanover’s. An older infrastructure may explain part of this difference. However, Winnipeg #1 is also the most rigidly managed and unionized division in Manitoba.
Six of the school divisions compared, Winnipeg #1, Pembina Trails, St. James-Assiniboia, Louis Riel, Seven Oaks and River-East Transcona, are located in the same urban centre. Differences in per-pupil expenditures cannot therefore be explained on the basis of urban versus rural.
Inequitable spending patterns among the divisions imply substantial differences in levels of efficiency and policy effectiveness. Because the Province of Manitoba does not use objective standards tests, we cannot discover whether that translates into similarly wide differences in student achievement. The existence of such parallel disparities can only be implied.
The biggest cost differentials exist in service areas where competitive alternatives exist in the marketplace. If maintenance and transportation in Winnipeg #1 were subjected to normal competitive market forces, they would fall substantially. If the division achieved the same per-pupil costs for those items as the most efficient division, it could save $35,229,532 annually.
Among school divisions of similar size and location, wide variability exists in per-pupil expenditures. The differences raise a challenge to the reasons why Manitoba continues to have separate divisions at all, and raise the question whether or not school boards have outlived their usefulness.