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Brandon district aims to avoid major tax hike

Zero increase would require cutting dozens of teachers

Mark Sefton says taxes would have to rise four per cent just to maintain current staffing and programming.

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Mark Sefton says taxes would have to rise four per cent just to maintain current staffing and programming. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)

Brandon school trustees would have to cut dozens of staffing positions next year in order to achieve a property tax freeze for the 2014-15 budget.

"This year, there's no additions whatsoever" in the division's draft budget, said school board chairman Mark Sefton.

Taxes would have to increase by four per cent just to maintain the same level of staffing and programming as this current school year -- and that's despite the Brandon School Division enrolment's continuing to grow again in September.

"If we went to take down that possible four per cent (tax increase) to zero, then we'd have to take $3.6 million out in staffing," Sefton said.

"We need to reduce spending by $900,000 for every one per cent (cut) in taxes.

For every one per cent of taxes saved, Brandon would hire 11 fewer teachers -- freezing taxes would chop 44 teaching positions, and that would be achieved by offering fewer high school courses. Reductions would come through attrition, not replacing all teachers who retire or leave June 30, Sefton said.

Salaries account for about 85 per cent of the school division's budget.

Reducing the number of teachers is one possible scenario of five currently before board trustees and posted online at bsd.ca. The other four include scenarios that range from a one per cent to a four per cent property tax increase.

High schools offer a wide range of vocational, band, world issues, music, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, well beyond the core courses, Sefton said.

Students need 30 credits for a high school diploma, but, "Our students graduate with an average of 36 credits. Some graduate with 40, 42," Sefton said.

Brandon trustees could also set a minimum enrolment in a course in order to offer it.

"There was some discontent among taxpayers" that has led trustees to think about a pause in expansion this year, Sefton said.

On the other hand, when the board meets Tuesday to hammer out close to a final budget version, trustees are aware that students and parents "see those (courses) as enriching in their lives. Their plea was, 'Please don't set limits on the number of courses we can take, or on class sizes,' " said Sefton.

When Education Minister James Allum increased the province's share of funding two per cent or $24.4 million two weeks ago, Allum said school divisions have enough money to maintain the quality of education without raising taxes.

Nevertheless, the average cost of operating the public school system has gone up roughly $70 million to $80 million in recent years.

Every public school teacher in Manitoba will start bargaining for a new contract July 1 -- the great unknown in determining just how much money trustees will have to put in their final budgets next month.

Sefton said Brandon is not giving any hint of how much money it's setting aside for retroactive increases in salary and benefits in the new deals still to be negotiated.

The four-year deal expiring June 30 gave teachers two 1.5 per cent raises the first year, and three years of two per cent raises. "That four-year agreement gave us some predictability," Sefton said.

Sefton said he's worried teachers will seek the level of higher increases police and firefighters are getting.

 

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca -- with files from the Brandon Sun

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