With the provincial government announcing the smallest increase to public school funding in more than a decade, taxpayers could be on the hook to make up the difference.
Education Minister Ian Wishart said on Wednesday he will be increasing funding for public schools by $13.1 million, or one per cent, sustaining the overall budget at more than $1.3 billion per year.
Last year, the former NDP government increased education funding by 2.55 per cent, or $32.5 million.
How exactly this will translate for the Brandon School Division is yet to be known, said BSD chair Kevan Sumner.
"It is concerning when we see a one per cent announcement," Sumner said. "It is below the rate of inflation which we factor into our capital costs … it’s (less than) half of what we’ve committed to in our collective agreement with teaching staff of three per cent for this year."
Although there were signals that school boards would be looking at tightening their purse strings, Sumner said he was surprised that the increase doesn’t appear to keep up with sustaining BSD’s current level of services.
"This doesn’t bode well for Brandon taxpayers," Sumner said. "(Last year), 61 per cent of our budget came from the province, so when that 61 per cent isn’t keeping up with the inflation of costs without adding any new bells or whistles, the only place we have to make that up is through local taxation. It’s not something we take lightly — but it certainly makes it difficult in trying to sustain our level of operations."
With the Pallister government focusing on controlling public spending, Wishart said they were pleased to be able to find the finances to increase funding for education.
"It still reflects our priority in terms of education being one of our high priority items … We want to work with school divisions to make sure that they’re in a position to find some efficiencies of their own so they can pass this on to help students," Wishart said.
"I certainly recognize that school boards are going to have to tighten their belts a little bit … but we think that if they work hard — and we trust the school boards can do that — they will be able to find some efficiencies and … deal with the funding without having to increase in significant ways."
The existing funding formula was used again this year, but Wishart said they are in the process of looking to change it.
"The funding formula needs a major overhaul … it really needs to be rebuilt and focused around addressing the needs of the school division," Wishart said. "It’s just a matter of conducting consultations with all of the school divisions."
With the growth in enrolment that BSD has seen, Wishart said the school board should see more funding this year.
Sumner said it’s too early to talk percentages, but staff will be putting in some long days to crunch the numbers.
"I’m disappointed, to be frank," Sumner said. "I hope the folks of Brandon will bear with us as we work on finalizing our preliminary budget … and give them some numbers to chew on."
The preliminary budget will be released at the regular board meeting on Feb. 13, pushed back from Feb. 8 to give the board more time putting it together. The public budget consultation forum will still be held on Feb. 15 at Kirkcaldy Heights School.
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