Group Decries Closure Ban for Schools

Media Appearances, Education, Frontier Centre

Education Minister Peter Bjornson’s moratorium on closing schools has condemned too many kids to a lack of programs while saddling school boards with the cost of keeping tiny schools open, says a new report from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Frontier researcher Michael Zwaagstra says in a report released this morning that it would be far more sensible to close small schools and let parents have more choice of where to enroll their children.

Bjornson suddenly imposed a moratorium last spring on closing small schools. The province says it will make money available to fill empty space in schools with daycare centres, seniors’ facilities and other community uses.

There were 13 schools under formal review across Manitoba for possible closure on June 30 of 2009, nine of them in Winnipeg.

School divisions say that enrolment at those 13 schools continues to dwindle, and that they would have placed even more schools under review this year had Bjornson not issued his edict.

Zwaagstra pointed out that Manitoba’s student population has declined steadily from 247,000 kindergarten to Grade 12 students in 1970 to about 180, 000. As of the last available statistics in September of 2007, Manitoba had 249 public schools with fewer than 150 students.

He said that it is not only costly to keep small schools open, but it also deprives children in those schools of the wider choice of programs available in larger schools.

The moratorium “fails to take into account the variety of circumstances faced by school divisions across the province,” the Frontier Centre report says.

“The quality of education received by many students will continue to suffer. The moratorium scuttles sensible school-closure plans that would be of great benefit to students.”

Zwaagstra said parents would accept closing schools if it led to greater choice for their children.

“The provincial government should make it easier for parents to send their children to the schools of their choice.

“Schools that focus on student achievement will see enrolment increases, as more parents will send their children to these schools while underperforming schools will have to change their focus or face closure,” he said.

“Instead of further centralizing decision-making authority in the hands of provincial civil servants, the minister should empower local officials and communities so they can manage their own affairs,” said Zwaagstra.

“Considering the continued decline in the student population in Manitoba, school closures are an inevitable occurrence.

“It makes little sense to keep schools open if they do not have the student population needed to sustain important educational programs. It does make sense to combine some schools in order to consolidate resources and programming,” the Frontier Centre report said.