At 7.8 per cent, Brandon School Division’s 2013-14 mill rate increase was the highest in the province, according to a recent report from Manitoba’s education department.
But BSD chair Mark Sefton says the large mill rate hike reflects the division’s rising costs, which include dealing with an increasing number of English as an additional language students, as well as more special-needs students.
Sefton said the number of EAL students in the division is at about 1,380, or 17 per cent of the student body.
To put that in perspective, in 2006 there were just 103 EAL students in the division.
“When you look at that alone, that’s had a huge impact,” he said.
Additional costs would include the hiring of more educational assistants and teachers.
“We do hire more EAs to help with our English as an additional language component,” Sefton said.
“We also try to keep those class sizes smaller so there’s more one-on-one time.”
Sefton said the goal is to move students as quickly as possible through the five EAL stages, ranging from very limited English to very competent.
“The faster we can help those students achieve that level five, the more independent they become, the more functional they are and the greater their prospects are,” he said.
As in any division, BSD has students with special needs, classified as Level 1, 2 or 3. Sefton said there are a wide range of disorders/difficulties that children are dealing with, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, autism spectrum disorder, behavioural difficulties, emotional difficulties, as well as difficulties in speech, language, hearing or medical complications.
“There is no question the effect of special needs students is having an impact on us,” he said.
Divisions submit applications for provincial funding for students whose special needs are a Level 2 or Level 3. Unfortunately, Sefton says, the number of funding approvals is decreasing, despite the fact the BSD population is growing.
“What we have seen in the last couple of years is while our student population increases and our number of applications has increased, the number of approvals has decreased, so that burden then falls locally,” he said.
“That’s a bit of a struggle for us. When we believe that we have greater needs but we’re seeing fewer approvals for special needs students.”
According to the Financial Reporting and Accounting in Manitoba Education (FRAME) report, school property taxes jumped an average 4.1 per cent this year.
Trustees across Manitoba raised school taxes by an average $56.46 on a typical $200,000 home.
Sefton said being on top of the mill rate list is not where the division wants to be, and hopes it can keep it low next year.
“Even though we did have that large increase in the mill rate, it didn’t move us that far in terms of our cost per pupil,” he said. “We’ve said for years that we’re the fourth-lowest cost per pupil … we’re now the seventh lowest. There’s still 31 divisions whose cost per pupil is higher than ours.”
The FRAME report shows there are 247 more people working full-time in public education in all job categories this year, 167 of them teachers.
There are an additional 69 technical specialists and 12 more clinicians in the system.
An aide to new Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum said the province is covering all costs of the 70 teachers hired to implement capping kindergarten to Grade 3 classrooms at 20 kids by 2017.
Manitoba Teachers’ Society president Paul Olson said last week the union’s internal numbers show fewer teachers hired than the province has calculated, but more non-teachers on the payroll.
Regardless, there are close to one per cent more people working in a public school system in which enrolment went up 0.2 per cent.
The rest of the new money that drove up taxes lies almost exclusively in employee benefits, up 4.6 per cent, supplies and materials 4.8 per cent, and special needs.
Allum’s aide said placing more special-needs students in regular classes added $5.6 million to instructional costs.
While many people complain about school property taxes, the determining factor of how much you pay and the quality of education your kids get is the assessed value of property within your division.
If you have IKEA, Sage Creek homes or the oilpatch creating growth in your division, that’s more taxpayers to share the homeowner’s burden, and more money trustees are able to spend on kids.
The highest school taxes in Manitoba are in the Kelsey School Division in The Pas, which has the lowest assessment per student in the province — barely half the provincial average.
The lowest taxes are in Gimli-based Evergreen, which has almost double the provincial average of assessment per student.
School property taxes jumped this year even though former education minister Nancy Allan gave the school divisions $27.2 million — a 2.3 per cent increase. That increase was on the province’s share of funding the $2.1-billion public education system.
Spending on the entire system went up $71.7 million, or 3.6 per cent. The rest comes from property taxes, or cuts to jobs, programs and services.
» email@example.com, with files from the Winnipeg Free Press
TAKING A HIKE
Mill rates are based on how much money a division wants to collect through property taxes and on the assessed value of properties within a division. They’re applied to your property’s value to obtain your taxes. Mill rates have increased 4.1 per cent across Manitoba; here are divisional increases in percentages:
Beautiful Plains — 1.4
Border Land — 1.7
Brandon — 7.8
Evergreen — 7.5
Flin Flon — 1.1
Fort la Bosse — -1.6
Frontier — 0
Garden Valley — 3.7
Hanover — 2.4
Interlake — 4.2
Kelsey — 3.5
Lakeshore — 1.5
Lord Selkirk — 6.6
Louis Riel — 3.9
Mountain View — 0.1
Mystery Lake — 1.6
Park West — 2.7
Pembina Trails — 2.3
Pine Creek — 1.2
Portage la Prairie — 1.3
Prairie Rose — 5.8
Prairie Spirit — 4.6
Red River Valley — 3.1
River East Transcona — 2.8
Rolling River — 2.0
Seine River — 4.7
Seven Oaks — 4.9
Southwest Horizon — 2.7
St. James-Assiniboia — 6.3
Sunrise — 0.1
Swan Valley — 0
Turtle Mountain — 4.1
Turtle River — 0
Western — 2.2
Winnipeg — 5.8
The Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine does not levy taxes — parents’ taxes in their home divisions are transferred to the provincewide division.
» Source: Winnipeg Free Press calculations of data within the provincial Financial Reporting and Accounting in Manitoba Education report.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 5, 2013