BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Chair Mark Sefton keeps trustees on task during budget deliberations at the Brandon School Division office on Tuesday. The school board, which has tentatively approved its 2014-15 budget, plans to cut 11 teaching positions and raise taxes by 2.9 per cent.
Brandon School Division plans to cut 11 teaching positions and raise taxes by 2.9 per cent, after trustees tentatively approved the 2014-15 budget during Tuesday’s deliberation meeting.
After nearly eight hours of discussion, trustees made a collective decision to cut 11 full-time teaching positions — one from a high school level speciality program, one from divisional learning support services and the other nine from yet to be determined grade levels. School board chair Mark Sefton said trustees have yet to decide which grades will see staff cuts, but they likely won’t affect kindergarten to Grade 3 teachers.
The elimination of the teaching positions, which will come into effect in September, resulted in $880,000 in reductions to the division’s nearly $90-million budget.
Sefton said the majority of those positions will likely be eliminated due to retirement or the division won’t renew a number of term contracts. Sefton insisted these reductions wouldn’t result in layoffs. He added that any time resources are taken out of the classroom, it’s a "tough" decision to make.
"The board collectively made a decision and in the spirit of compromise, people had to change their positions in order to come to an agreement," Sefton said. "At the end of the day, we needed to have a tentative budget and that’s what we’ve achieved."
The 2.9 per cent tax hike equates to approximately $42.88 per year, or $3.57 per month, for a house assessed at $220,000, as well as a 6.5 per cent reduction to the mill rate.
With no additions to the 2014-15 draft budget, trustees were able to jump right into considering areas where they could cut costs.
Although trustees juggled with the idea of implementing a 15-student class size minimum enrolment in a high school course in order to offer it, the majority of trustees were against the change.
Since more than 85 per cent of the school division’s budget is allocated to salaries and benefits, trustees were forced to consider staff cuts and program efficiencies.
Brandon Teachers’ Association president Alison Johnston said the loss of 11 teachers will directly impact the services and supports offered in classrooms.
"Brandon School Division is a growing division," Johnston said. "The dollar can only be stretched so far before it breaks and that’s a concern I think we should have as a community.
"Education is an investment ... and I think that’s something that we as a community have an opportunity to provide."
BSD will continue to battle enrolment growth challenges during the 2014-15 school year.
The division’s enrolment has jumped from 7,181 students in 2005-06 to 8,313 students in the 2013-14 school year. The division predicts enrolment will grow to 8,437 students during the 2014-15 school year.
"We should be increasing staff instead of reducing it," Johnston said. "It will have an impact, in my view, on the types and quality of services that we can provide to our students."
Trustees also reduced their out-of-province professional development travel fund by $40,000.
Sefton announced during deliberations that the division is receiving $120,000 from the province for the 2014-15 school year to help phase in the province’s mandate to cap kindergarten to Grade 3 classes at 20 by 2017. Sefton said 12 full-time teachers have already been designated for the 20K3 initiative and cash from the province, combined with the division budget, will cover their costs.
Prior to the start of budget deliberations on Tuesday, trustees were handed the 2014-15 budget consultation survey results. The board posted a list of potential cost reductions within five scenarios online at bsd.ca for the public to consider prior to last week’s public budget forum. Of the 486 community members who either filled out the survey in person or online, 90.27 per cent were in favour of the first scenario, which would have resulted in a four per cent tax increase and no reductions.
Despite the survey only reflecting a small portion of Brandon’s population, Sefton said it’s possible it had an impact on some of the trustees’ decision-making.
"Only 486 is more than last year so that’s a step forward, but at the same time you never know the demographics of those who have completed the survey," he said. "That’s great that so many people felt so passionately, but we don’t know how those surveys came out and how many of those completed surveys and we also don’t know if one of those people did two or three of those online surveys."
Now that trustees have tentatively approved their budget, there’s still a chance for some minor changes to made, Sefton said.
On March 3, the public is invited to make presentations regarding the budget during a special board meeting. The division requests that those interested in presenting, call 204-729-3114 to get on the speakers list. Trustees will finalize the budget on March 10 prior to submitting it before the March 15 provincial deadline.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 19, 2014