So, my old buddy Murray Mandryk (Leader-Post) took a poke at John Conway (Leader-Post). For someone to the political right of Conway, that's as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. It's even easier this time, because Conway is right and wrong at the same time on the issue of mill rate setting.
Conway is right in the way that the two most important things a government -- whether a school board, a town council, or a province -- can do is to set its own tax rate and decide how its going to spend its money. In the end, school boards are going to become little more than glorified parent-teacher associations under the Sask. Party initiative.
And if the New Democratic Party had done the same thing being proposed today when they were in power, the Saskatchewan Party would be handing out pitchforks and torches to the angry mob. And most of that mob would be Sask. Party supporters, either through an astroturf campaign (Urban Dictionary, definitions 1 and 2) or by rural residents genuinely angered that school boards were going the way of health districts -- more accountable to governments than to the people they serve.
About 15 years ago, I was the editor of a newspaper in Castor, Alberta (about halfway between the Saskatchewan border and Red Deer) when the Alberta government announced its plans to do the same thing to its school boards. And the ranchers, farmers, and small businessmen who made up the local school boards were saying the same things about that proposal that John Conway said in today's L-P.
But Conway is wrong -- dead wrong -- about other things on this same topic. Parents of children going into the Saskatchewan education system -- whether they're in Beauval or Swift Current -- expect their kids to be taught the same curriculum with pretty much the same resources available. Most of a school division's major expenses -- light, heat, teachers' salaries, pensions -- are the same. Teachers' contracts, for example, are negotiated on a province-wide basis. The provincial government -- not the school trustees -- does the talking for management when contract talks are under way.
As well, the province sets the standards as to how many children should be in a class, how much money the school board will get in its grant from the provincial government, and how it will spend its capital budget. The school board can recommend -- but in the end, they can't sign cheques without going Mother May I to the Department of Education.
As for the funding part, the NDP ran out of excuses long ago not to return to a 60/40 province/municipal sharing arrangement for school divisions.
Conway is making the mistake of trying to fight the last war. And if the Leader-Post wasn't owned by CanWest, and actually had a reporter on the education beat, the reporter could have told his/her editor that this story is hardly front-page material, even on a slow news day.