The provincial government’s decision to increase funding in Manitoba schools by $27.2 million, or 2.3 per cent, in the upcoming school year is especially good news for the Brandon School Division, according to Education Minister Nancy Allan.
"For the second year in a row, Brandon is getting one of the largest increases in the province," Allan said.
The distribution of provincial funding to school divisions across Manitoba is based on things like property values, enrolment and assessment per pupil. While other school divisions will be receiving a 2.3 per cent increase from last year, Brandon will see an 8.4 per cent increase or a total of $3.2 million in provincial funding.
This year, the Brandon School Division will see a net increase of $609,000 to ease the cost of increasing enrolment levels along with an additional $2.6 million for equalization.
"Some school divisions aren’t as wealthy as other school divisions," Allan said. "So what we try to do is provide equality."
Besides enrolment levels, the boost in provincial funding will also help the school division with the 2017 implementation of the K-3 class size initiative.
"This is a growing school division and Brandon is a very vibrant community, and this is a really good problem to have so we’ve been working with the Brandon School Division all along to provide infrastructure funding as well as providing more funding," Allan said.
As part of the K-3 class size initiative, by September 2017, school divisions in Manitoba will be required to cap their kindergarten to Grade 3 classrooms at 20 students.
As a way of giving school divisions a little flexibility, the province is allowing 10 per cent of the classrooms per division to exceed the cap, without exceeding 23 students.
In preparation for this initiative, Brandon school board trustees passed a motion in July 2012 to hire nine new teachers at a cost of $756,000, while the province only provided the school division with $131,223 in funding to help ease the cost of reducing class sizes.
Allan said that no other school division in the province decided to hire that many teachers last year, a decision that she said wasn’t necessary.
"Those decisions were made at a local level," Allan said. "Even school divisions like Seven Oaks School Division in Winnipeg that has just as many enrolment pressures, hired two teachers because this is a strategic initiative that we said very clearly did not have to be implemented until 2017," Allan said.
In an effort to ease the impact on taxpayers, school board chair Mark Sefton said the board agreed that hiring nine teachers was a decision made in the best interest of the community.
"We definitely did not have to make that decision then. However, our feeling all along is because we know that we have to implement this class size mandate, we knew that we would have to hire a lot of teachers," Sefton said.
"We felt it was the most prudent thing to do rather than waiting till the end."
Brandon school board trustees have projected that they will need to hire 35 to 40 new teachers within the next five years leading up to the K-3 class caps.
They also predict that their enrolment will increase by three per cent next year.
"That’s a reality that we have to deal with," he said.
Sefton added that the hiring of an additional 57 staff members is being included into the 2013-14 budget plan, over nine of those positions will be set aside for classroom teachers and supports.
"We are thinking about what is in the best interest in the long term for the community," Sefton said.
"We don’t regret making that decision because we feel it’s in the best interest of our students in the long term."