A growing trend in both government and business is a move toward consolidation/ amalgamation. "Bigger is better" seems to be the flavor of the month.
Is bigger really better? My doctor did not seem too impressed with me getting bigger (heavier) since my last checkup, so perhaps getting bigger is not always better.
In recent years, our provincial governments have amalgamated Health Boards and Municipal Councils. The rationale; save money, greater efficiency and improved services. Did Health services and local government improve as a result of amalgamation? Have health care or municipal costs decreased? Do they offer more services? Are they more efficient?
If a recent article in the Free Press is true, emergency room wait time actually increased by 13%. Similarly, I have not noticed that my local tax bill has decreased since the amalgamation of municipalities, nor have I noticed any new services being provided.
The Education Department is next in line for the bigger is better movement. The government will be conducting a comprehensive review of the Education system this January. Please make sure you participate if asked. The government has already indicated that school board amalgamations will be a topic of inquiry. Large regional school boards similar to Health Care Boards have been floated as possible ways to improve student outcomes, reduce cost per student and bring greater efficiency to the system.
I would suggest that before the province embarks on the next round of school board amalgamations, it should first examine the six school divisions in Winnipeg. Of the six divisions, Winnipeg School Division is twice as large as the next largest division. Winnipeg School Division's enrollment is over 32,000 students.
Given its size, you would expect that its cost per student would be the lowest of the six divisions. In actuality, Winnipeg School Division's cost per student is the second highest of the six divisions. Efficient? Reduce costs per student? Similarly, I suspect that student provincial assessment results for Winnipeg School Division are not any better than the other five divisions. Improved outcomes?
I do think that there are school divisions that are too small and could be amalgamated with neighboring school divisions with minimal disruption and would create efficiencies. In examining cost per student data, it is clear that very small school divisions have a higher cost per student than midsized divisions. In such cases, amalgamations makes sense.
A thorough review of our Educational System is a good thing, if conducted in an open, transparent and comprehensive manner involving a broad cross section of Manitobans.
What is not needed is to blindly follow the "bigger is better" crowd.