Keeping students’ education the No. 1 priority was a message trustees heard loud and clear during Brandon School Division’s public budget forum.
More than 100 community members gathered at École Harrison on Wednesday night to hear from trustees and share their concerns regarding BSD’s 2014-15 preliminary budget.
Among those in attendance were a number of local high school students who worry how putting a 15-student class size minimum on grades 9 to 12 classes could affect students’ education in the future.
BSD is considering a 15-student class size minimum for high school curriculum courses. BSD predicts the change could save approximately $480,000. Pupil to teacher ratio changes could also save between $800,000 and $2.4 million.
Trustee Kevan Sumner said it’s being presented as a "broad class-size cap" but admits it’s the smaller, more specialized classes that it could potentially have a greater impact on.
"We feel that there could be some solutions to times tables and scheduling that would mitigate the impact of this but I’m sure this is on the mind of all board members and administrative staff as we go forward with budget deliberations," Sumner said. "We want to have a few options so that if it came to reductions we could take into consideration the sentiments of our students and the community at large."
École Neelin Secondaire High School Grade 12 student Michael Brooks said students should have the freedom to choose from a wide range of courses while they’re still in high school.
"This is the time in our lives where we should be able to choose what we want to do while also looking towards the future," Brooks said. "Whereas college is for focusing on what we must do."
BSD is also proposing putting a cap on the number of courses high school students can take. The limit they are proposing is between 34 and 38 courses over a four-year period. Currently, the minimum is 30 and the provincial average is 38, Sumner said.
Neelin high school principal Michael Adamski spoke out in opposition of the cap and said it would be "difficult" to have to tell students who want to fill their spare or break between classes that they couldn’t because of it.
"Ethically I would have a real difficult time having that conversation with kids and parents who come into my office," Adamski told trustees during question period. "We need to continue to move forward and always want the best for not only the current kids but the kids that are coming up through the system."
The board posted a list of potential cost reductions within five scenarios online at bsd.ca for the public to consider prior to Wednesday’s budget forum.
BSD’s approximate four per cent "worst-case scenario" tax increase seemed to fall on the back burner Wednesday as several community members posed concerns in regards to program efficiencies and support services.
BSD’s enrolment has jumped from 7,181 students in 2005-06 to 8,313 students in the 2013-14 school year. The school division is predicting enrolment will grow to 8,437 students during the 2014-15 school year.
"We’ve grown to the equivalent of five small elementary schools in just a few years," school board chair Mark Sefton told the crowd.
Despite the province's two per cent — or $24.4-million — funding increase and no additions to staffing, programs or services, BSD is still facing a $1.3-million deficit.
In upcoming weeks, there will be a few more events which will help shape the outcome of BSD’s 2014-15 budget. Trustees will gather on Feb. 18 for their all-day budget meeting starting at 9 a.m. and on March 3, the public will be invited to make presentations regarding the budget during a special board meeting. BSD plans to finalize and submit its budget on March 10.