The provincial government is increasing funding to Manitoba schools by $27.2 million, or 2.3 per cent, in the upcoming year, but school board members still aren’t sure what this will mean for the Brandon School Division budget.
"It’s still too early to tell," said school board chair Mark Sefton. "Generally, this is always good news because there’s no school division in the province whose cost for supplies and utilities are going down, any increase is a step forward."
Sefton added that school board trustees should know more about how this announcement will affect their budget in time for their all-day budget deliberations on Feb. 19.
"We’re hoping our increase is more than 2.3 per cent," Sefton said. "Our student count has increased by a huge amount so we’re hoping that recognition will be rolled into that."
Other factors impacting this year’s school budget include additional staffing, programs for the increasing diversity of student learning needs, infrastructure development and support for program delivery. This year’s budget will also involve preparations for the provincial K-3 class size initiative implementation.
Even though this initiative won’t go into effect until 2017, Sefton added it’s important for the school board to start incorporating it into the budget now.
"We’re committed to moving forward on that because taxpayers don’t want to all of a sudden find out that their taxes are largely increasing," Sefton said.
By September 2017, school divisions in Manitoba will be required to cap their kindergarten to Grade 3 classrooms at 20 students. Although 10 per cent of the classrooms per division will be given the flexibility to exceed the cap, no classes will be permitted to have more than 23 students.
To help school divisions across the province implement this new restriction, they are eligible for funding based on their K-3 enrolment. Sefton said that the school board has applied for this funding but is still waiting to hear back from the province.
"The class size grant is something that affects us significantly," he said. "But we should know something closer to spring time."
Although the province has upped its education funding for its 14th consecutive year, not every school division will benefit from the increase.
"Every school division is different in terms of what they are going to see and we will not see an increase at all because of where we sit with our funding," said Neil Finch, superintendent of the Turtle Mountain School Division.
Finch added that their school division falls under what is known as "the formula guarantee," which means that their provincial funding stays about the same each year and isn’t dependent on enrolment.
"Even if your enrolment is dropping you’re guaranteed the same funding you had the previous year," Finch said. "Since we don’t see any increases, the down side is that every year our staffing costs go up because people have increases in their wages. So when you don’t see an increase and you stay status quo you have to find that money somewhere."
Steinbach Progressive Conservative MLA and education critic Kelvin Goertzen is also concerned with whether or not this increase in funding will see improved results across the province.
"We need to take a serious look at why our students are struggling and work to correct the deficient areas," Goertzen said in a press release issued yesterday. "Showing up each year with a funding increase announcement is not an alternative to a results-based education system."
Goertzen added that he continues to hear complaints from parents and those in the education system that although schools are receiving more funding each year, the proper support for some students still aren’t there.
"Despite taxpayers giving more each year, thousands of students across the province have class in mobile and temporary structures, test resultsare not improving andthere is a shortage of support for students with special needs," he said. "Parents, teachers and students have a right to expect results for all the spending and they are not getting it."
But education minister Nancy Allan said this funding announcement will ensure more support for students and better results.
"These new supports will enure our schools have the same or increased levels of funding to keep building on programs that are producing results," Allan said in a press release issued yesterday. "Together we’re improving quality and helping students develop in math, reading and writing."
School board members are still working on what the Brandon School Division’s 2013-14 budget will look like and plan to incorporate this new provincial funding announcement while they continue to break down the numbers.
Community members will have their chance to weigh in on the preliminary budget at a public consultation which will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 7 p.m. at Earl Oxford School.
The division’s all-day budget deliberations will commence on Feb. 19 and a special public board meeting will then be held March 4.
On March 11, trustees are expected to officially approve the budget.