No plans to amalgamate school board

Provincial review to take place early next year

The Flin Flon School Division (FFSD) is not currently set to be amalgamated with another school division, but an upcoming review could change that.

With Flin Flon and The Pas proposed to be joined together in the same provincial riding and new faces in charge of the Manitoba Ministry of Education and Training, concerns for the future of school board autonomy in Flin Flon have been raised by school officials.

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A spokesperson representing the Ministry of Education and Training said there were “no discussions at this time” regarding northern school division amalgamation. Constance McLeese, FFSD superintendent, confirmed this.

“The rumours of the rumours have been floating around ever since I arrived here. We’ve heard nothing official from any person who would be a reliable or an official source,” said McLeese, who has served as superintendent since 2016.

While amalgamation discussions have not been held with FFSD or other Manitoba school divisions, they may be soon – the province will be launching a review of K-12 education in early 2019, which may include amalgamation discussion, according to the provincial spokesperson.

In early 2017, then-provincial education minister Ian Wishart told the Winnipeg Free Press that FFSD would be a potential candidate for amalgamation. A spokesperson for Wishart later told The Reminder that FFSD was not being actively looked at as an amalgamation target. Since then, a cabinet shuffle has placed Kelvin Goertzen as Manitoba’s new minister of education.

In addition to FFSD, there are currently three other school divisions operating in northern Manitoba. One, the Mystery Lake School Division, covers schools and education facilities in Thompson. Another, the Kelsey School Division, is tasked with operating schools in The Pas, OCN and in the Carrot River valley.

Most of the northern half of the province is currently governed by Frontier School Division. The division, which is based out of Winnipeg, maintains schools in Cranberry Portage, Snow Lake, Cormorant and several other communities, stretching as far as Tadoule Lake and Churchill.

If amalgamation were to take place, the four schools in Flin Flon could have to compete with other schools within a new division for repair funds, renovations or program expansion.

“If I were to judge from similar downsizings from Ontario or the Maritimes as an example, that’s where the impact was, not from the grassroots – you still have the same kids who need education,” said McLeese.

“You need to run the schools for the kids. It would be more at the division level or the trustee level that the changes might impact.”

The last major school board amalgamation in northern Manitoba took place in 2002, with school divisions in Snow Lake, Lynn Lake, Leaf Rapids and Churchill all combining with Frontier School Division. The move cut the number of school divisions in northern Manitoba in half, from eight to four. Province wide, Manitoba went from having 54 separate school divisions to 37.

Around the time of the 2002 mergers, discussions were held between FFSD officials and other school boards, in particular, Kelsey and the Swan River-based Swan Valley School Division, to combine operations. No partnership was ever reached.

Across the provincial border, Creighton School Division avoided a push to combine with Northern Lights School Division last year after the provincial budget called for a funding cut of almost five per cent.

In the meantime, the ongoing legal battle around Bill 28, a yet-to-be proclaimed piece of Manitoba provincial legislation that would mandate a two-year wage freeze and strict limits on wage increases for all Manitoba public sector employees, has left teachers and school staff across Manitoba working without a contract with little chance for a new deal to be signed soon. Court proceedings filed by a group representing several Manitoba public sector employee unions have been scheduled for November 2019.

When the now-former contract was created in 2014, the Flin Flon chapter of the Manitoba Teachers Society (MTS) first signed and ratified the contract.

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