Forbidding school closures a facade

Forbidding school closures a facade
By Ken Waddell
Manitoba’s Education Minister Peter Bjornson blew off a few fireworks this past week by announcing schools wouldn’t be allowed to close.
Like a lot of fireworks and government press releases, there’s bit of flame, a lot of noise and some lingering smoke.
Nice effects but not very long lasting.
A closer look at the minister’s pronouncement shows that schools will still close if parents and the community decide that’s what’s best, if there’s consolidation of schools and if there’s no community based activity that can be added into the facility. Community based meaning a day care or a seniors program.
No politician wants to get caught closing schools, or hospitals for that matter, but with a shrinking population, it sometimes is inevitable.
Bjornson knows that but he’s drawn his little line in the sand, had his little temper tantrum against the big mean school boards and delayed some closures for a while. When the schools close, Bjornson will be able to shrug and say “I tried.” Actually Bjornson and his crew are very trying.
Another silly thing he said was no student should be on a bus for more than an hour. Taken literally that might mean he would open a high school in Langruth or Amaranth or Eddystone, but I’m sure that’s not what he meant. Many children are on a bus for more than an hour, it’s a fact of life in rural Manitoba.
If Bjornson wants to save some money then he should have city students on a bus for a little longer. Instead of expanding some schools or even building a new one maybe some city students could (horror of horrors) take a bus to school.
At first blush it looked like Bjornson was coming to the rescue of a few rural schools. Apparently he has much longer list of school closures in Winnipeg staring him in the face. Given that funding is short for schools and given that nobody wants to pay more taxes, some school divisions are faced with school closures. Many schools in Winnipeg (and some of them were pretty nice buildings too) have already closed.
Don’t expect any of the schools scheduled to close to actually survive. But then it’s not about having schools survive, it’s about having Bjornson survive. If schools close in rural Manitoba, the NDP don’t need to care. They aren’t likely to ever win those seats anyway. But if they close more schools in Winnipeg, if they show they actually aren’t managing the government very well, it could sway some voters and some seats in Winnipeg.
The plain truth is that as long as the NDP have five northern seats and nearly 30 Winnipeg seats, they will always be in government. That’s where the basis of this school announcement lies. It’s all about maintaining a facade of credibility. There’s not much behind the facade, but if you keep people from looking long enough, you may get through a few elections unscathed.
It’s worked so far.

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