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prof amalgamate

A Simon Fraser University professor thinks the province’s plan to amalgamate school districts will not save money and is part of a shell game. In an interview in the Jan. 5 issue of Education Leader, a newsletter published by the B.C. School Trustees Association, Dr. Peter Coleman says at a time when American and British school systems are moving toward more and smaller school districts, British Columbia is going in the wrong direction. Coleman, who has been a secondary school teacher, university professor, school trustee, and school superintendent, is currently part of the Education faculty at SFU. Coleman argues that more than 90 per cent of school district spending is in the schools, so only real way to save money is in the schools, not in the districts. "The savings are just not there," he says in the interview. "This is hocus pocus. There is something else going on here." He suggests one of the province’s motives for reducing the number of districts is to centralize control, which will make it easier for the Ministry of Education to implement changes to the provincial curriculum. It will also reduce the importance of school trustees, Coleman feels. "The minister has decided that too many of these school boards are making too much noise. Or simply not doing what the ministry tells them to do, or not doing it very effectively," he says. Coleman says the costs per pupil are lower and economies of scale work best when there’s about 15,000-20,000 students in a district, and adds some American studies suggest there are no efficiencies to be gained beyond 1,000 or 2,000 students. He feels the administrative effectiveness of amalgamated districts will in some cases be hampered by geographic constraints. "I certainly wouldn’t say that every school district had a clear case for continuing to exist," he tells Education Leader editor Jennifer Gray-Grant. "But when you look case by case at the changes being proposed, some are going to create massive problems. Others will have marginal benefits and one or two or three might well be justified on a case-by-case basis. But a blanket sort of redrawing of the map... If you truly believe that school districts need to be bigger, why not make the whole province one school district? As far as the ability to administer, you might just as well do that." The only savings he sees in the ministry’s mandate will be through cuts to special education funding. The real place to save money, according to Coleman, is with teachers and with the bureaucracy within the Ministry of Education. "They’re going to have to bite the bullet, whether it’s the NDP or the Liberals; if they really want to save a lot of money out of the public school budget, it’s got to be saved on teacher spending. Either the number of teachers or their salary." Education Minister Art Charbonneau has given school boards until April to come up with plans to amalgamate and reduce the number of districts and to cut spending. He has proposed the Howe Sound School District amalgamate with the Sunshine Coast.