Nearly 130 community members attended the Brandon School Board public budget meeting at Earl Oxford School on Wednesday night, giving trustees an opportunity to get some public feedback in regards to their 2013-14 preliminary budget plan.
Along with attending the meeting in person, community members were also invited and encouraged to submit questions online via the Brandon School Division website. They were shared anonymously during question period.
"We’re not here to debate or argue, we’re here to hear from you," school board chair Mark Sefton told the crowd.
Some of the concerns raised by community members included whether the division will consider putting more bullying initiatives in place, the possible 5.5 per cent mill rate increase and how the K-3 class size initiative implementation will affect the budget and space in schools.
Brandon Chamber of Commerce president Nate Andrews said he’s worried trustees are acting too quickly when it comes to the K-3 class size initiative, which the province plans to implement in 2017.
"The chamber’s concern is how fast the implementation takes place. We know that the end result is going to be a certain cost at a certain point in time, but do we need to accelerate that process faster than we think is reasonable?" Andrews said. "Nine teachers were hired last year and nine more teachers this year is also creating space issues, so we’d like to see a better long-range plan."
Andrews said he’s also concerned with how the board’s request for 12 portable classrooms could affect Brandon’s chances at getting a new school in the future.
"We’re concerned with spending $3 million on portables that will also put that new school farther down the road."
School board trustees were also on hand to give the public a full breakdown of the numbers and some of the factors that are affecting this year’s budget considerations, all of which can be viewed online at brandonsd.mb.ca.
Factors affecting this year’s budget include enrolment changes, programs for increasing diversity of student learning needs, facility substantiability and collective agreement costs.
Overall, school board chair Mark Sefton said he was impressed with the turnout, a large increase from last year’s public meeting, as well as the amount of public feedback that trustees will have to work with come budget deliberation day on Feb. 19.
"Tonight’s turnout and the feedback we got was fantastic," Sefton said. "Anytime we can have the public come out and share their perspectives with us, whether they agree with us or disagree with us, it’s really important for us to get that feedback."
In upcoming weeks, there will be more events that will help shape the outcome of the budget and that could help moderate this year’s school tax increase. On March 4, the public will be invited to make presentations regarding the budget during a special school board meeting and on March 11, trustees will meet to give the final approval of the budget before submitting it to the province.