"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Cutting crew (I)

Clyde Jackman is thinking about amalgamating school boards to save money. The CBC reports a few days ago:
Jackman said his officials are talking with boards about how to spend less money.

In an interview with CBC News, Jackman didn't rule out the possibility of merging the Nova Central and Eastern school district boards.

"Because we are exploring ways to find efficiencies, so if we can find efficiencies through this means — it is an option that we're looking at, but I do want to stress there's been no decisions finalized," said Jackman.
How has that worked, in practice, in the past?

Not very well.

In 1996, after the abolition of denominational education, the 27 denominational and "integrated" school boards were reduced to ten regional boards, plus a province-wide francophone board.

In 2004, the ten regional boards were further consolidated into four, with no change to the province-wide francophone board.

Throughout this period, the population of school-age children continued the long decline that began in the 1970s, further sliding from about 116,000 at the time of the 1996 consolidation, to about 90,000 at the time of the 2004 consolidation. By 2012, the school-age population had further declined to about 75,000.

Yet, throughout this period of administrative consolidation and declining enrollment, the number of people administering the dwindling number of school boards, and teaching an ever-shrinking student population, barely budged. In fact, the number of school board employees, after slumping slightly after the 2004 re-alignment, has since made up all of that loss, and then some.

This chart shows the school-age population (left axis) and school board employment (right axis), with the number of school boards indicated by the number of graph squares shaded in grey in each column.

There is a limit to how much can be cut on the basis of consolidation and declining enrollment, given the dispersed nature of the rural population, and enrollments that may actually be growing in some centres. However, it's hard to explain how the dramatic re-organization of school board administration, and the dramatic decline in student enrollment, could have resulted in no long-term reduction in the size of the school system... except when you consider the total lack of political will to achieve any such savings.

As #FormerPremier said during the 2005 Bishop's Falls controversy — which had the unfortunate timing to coincide with a by-election in Exploits:
"I'm sure we'll be criticized, because there's a board in place, and (people will ask) is government going to overrule boards... That's not the practice, that's not the intention. But if boards or groups or reports or consultants make decisions that are wrong decisions, then we have a responsibility, as government, to make the right ones." [quoted by Rob Antle, the Telegram, Jun 18, 2005]
Bishop's Falls was the price the Conservatives were willing to pay to successfully convert Exploits, much as, a few years later, Flowers Cove was the price they would pay in a (failed) attempt to keep The Straits and White Bay North.

The PC's deep-rooted psychological need to win and hold friends and seats, whatever the cost to the public treasury, is about to run smack into a decade's worth of deferred fiscal and demographic reality.

Go make popcorn. It's gonna be quite a show.

EDITED TO ADD: In response to a comment/question, source data for school board employment is from Statscan CANSIM Table 183-0002 (annualized to smooth out seasonal fluctuations); population estimates for school-aged children (ages 5 to 18 inclusive) are from Table 051-0001.



At 7:50 AM, March 07, 2013 , Blogger tbaird said...

Can you post links to your data sources for the chart?

At 12:04 AM, March 11, 2013 , Blogger WJM said...

Good question, tbaird! I forgot my usual habit of citing the statistical source; edited the post to add the CANSIM references. Thanks!


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