With their eyes on a possible surplus, Brandon School Division trustees are debating how to manage increasing student enrolment, not enough classroom space and the rising cost of inflation.
Trustees were presented with the preliminary financial budget for 2023-24 on Tuesday, with a projected revenue of $122,240,067, and expenses of $121,655,328, which could lead to a surplus of $518,639 and a reduction in school tax.
The provincial government helped ease the funding pressure for the Brandon School Division earlier this month with a $6.3-million boost that was part of a provincewide increase in education funding of $100 million.
Brandon School Division secretary-treasurer Denis Labossiere explains the financial budget to the board of trustees during the preliminary budget presentation on Tuesday. (Michele McDougall/The Brandon Sun)
In 2020, the province froze education property taxes as it pursued a plan to gradually phase them out over several years. Because of that, school divisions have been given a two per cent property tax offset grant to help pay for rising costs.
Earlier this year, Education Minister Wayne Ewasko told reporters his government is still working on finding a new permanent funding model for education.
With assessed property values having risen, the Brandon School Division has been able to slightly lower the mill rate, which means property owners should see a 1.56 per cent decrease on their education property taxes.
For the owner of an average single family residential home with an assessed value of $277,830, that would mean a savings of $27.22 per year.
It was a significant funding increase, but a large amount has already been accounted for, said Brandon School Board chair Linda Ross, who recalled that last year, the school division had to cut 10.69 full-time equivalent positions to make up for a $1.2-million budget shortfall.
“There’s never enough money, and the last couple of years we’ve had reductions, significant reductions in funding,” said Ross, “and that’s why we’re not looking at new positions, but instead we’re considering — can we replace some of what we’ve lost?”
During the financial budget presentation, the school division’s secretary-treasurer, Denis Labossiere, pointed out which expenses affect the budget that can’t be controlled including utilities, fuel for buses, contracts for software on computers, property and vehicle insurance, and garbage fees.
Those are big pressures and so is inflation, said Supt. Mathew Gustafson, but the biggest pressure he added, is in the classroom.
In the 2022-23 school year, the division experienced the largest yearly student increase in more than 10 years, exceeding the budgeted enrolment estimate by 290 students.
“Comparing September 30, 2022 to September 30, 2021, we saw an increase of 328 students. That is a significant increase for the division within one year,” said Gustafson.
Ross told the Sun last week that Maryland Park School, which opened in early 2021, was originally designed to hold 650 students. However, it opened with a capacity for just 450.
She said the province has promised to build eight more permanent classrooms to bridge that capacity gap, but construction has yet to be scheduled.
So far, the Manitoba government has provided modular classrooms for Maryland Park, but Ross has said these facilities are not as ideal as indoor, permanent classrooms.
“When the province said they were going to build there we were thrilled, but we said, it’ll be full when it’s built, and it was,” Ross said. “Right now there are four modulars sitting there, expected to open in March, but we will need two more.”
There are also modular classrooms at Alexander, Betty Gibson, Earl Oxford, Meadows and École New Era schools.
After trustees have had an opportunity to debate the financial budget, it will be open for public consultation on Feb. 27 with the final budget approval scheduled for March 5.
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