Despite receiving one of the largest funding increases from the province this year, Brandon School Division board chair Mark Sefton says that taxpayers can expect to see a 5.5 per cent mill rate increase this year — at least.
Although Education Minister Nancy Allan’s funding announcement last week was loosely based on enrolment — Brandon currently has the highest enrolment rate in the province — Sefton says it’s still not enough.
“Once we factored in expected enrolment growth for the next year, even with the increase in funding and making no additions to programs and services, we would still have a deficit of $2.8 million,” Sefton said. “When you put all of those together and then that increase, though was generous and based on enrolment, that increase has now kind of disappeared.”
The Brandon School Division has the fourth-lowest cost per pupil out of the province’s 37 school divisions and has the 14th-lowest mill rate in the province, but as enrolment continues to grow, these low rates are beginning to present problems for school board trustees.
“We operate on roughly $1,000 less per pupil than the average Manitoban,” Sefton added.
The proposed 5.5 per cent mill rate increase means that the average home valued at $200,000 would pay an extra $76 per year, or $6.33 per month.
Sefton said the increase is due to the division’s rapid enrolment growth combined with “the tremendous diversity of that growth.”
Trustees are also predicting a three per cent enrolment increase for 2014, which will require roughly 27 new teaching positions that will also be combined with prenegotiated salary increases and rising utility costs.
In order to meet those needs, Sefton said trustees are considering the addition of 46 resource requirement positions to the 2013-14 budget plan, which totals $4.6 million.
“Approving all of these requests is the best case scenario for meeting the needs of our students,” Sefton said.
But if all of their requests were approved, it could result in a mill rate increase of 11.3 per cent, which would equate to $157 per year or $13.08 per month for the average home valued at $200,000. However, Sefton said the final numbers will “definitely be less than that.”
“That’s a scary number for all of us,” Sefton said. “Taxpayers are always wondering, if the enrolment in schools and the population of the city are both growing, why do individual taxpayers still see an increase in their taxes?”
Sefton said that although the tax base is growing, so are the number of new students and the number of new taxpayers.
“Most families only have one property taxpayer, but most families have at least two children attending school.”
Another factor that will effect the school tax increase will be dependent on the amount of funding the school division will receive from the province for the implementation of the K-3 class size initiative, which limits class sizes down to 20 students by 2017. Sefton said that trustees should know by March 11 how much the province will be contributing towards that initiative.
“Funding in this area would also moderate the impact on local taxpayers,” he said.
In upcoming weeks, there will be several events that will help shape the outcome of the budget and moderate this year’s school tax increase.
School board trustees will have a chance to weigh in on all of the requests during the all-day budget deliberation meeting on Feb. 19. Community members will also be invited to voice their concerns regarding the budget on Wednesday at a public meeting being held at Earl Oxford School at 7 p.m. For those unable to attend, you can also participate in the meeting online by visiting brandonsd.mb.ca closer to the date.
“At that session we want the public to provide to us which items in our budget the public can support and which items in the budget the public can’t support,” Sefton said.
On March 4, the public will also 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.
The pending school tax increase follows city council’s 13-hour budget deliberations on Jan. 12 that resulted in a 0.98 per cent mill rate increase. The $71.9-million operating budget represents a mill rate increase of less than one per cent, while the overall municipal mill rate is 19.256, up from last year’s 19.07.