LINDSEY ENNS/BRANDON SUN
Brandon Teachers’ Association president Alison Johnston talks about staffing cuts with Brandon School Division trustees during a special board meeting on Monday night. The meeting was the last opportunity for members of the public to give trustees feedback regarding the 2014-15 budget.
Speaking out against tax hikes and staff cuts were some of the final pieces of public feedback Brandon School Division trustees received regarding the 2014-15 budget.
Community members were invited to make presentations regarding the BSD’s budget during a special board meeting on Monday night.
Among the five presenters was Brandon Teachers’ Association president Alison Johnston, who told trustees the BTA does not support the division’s tentative budget.
Johnston said "at the very least" the division should stick to a "status-quo budget" that maintains September 2013 staffing levels.
Trustees agreed to cut 11 teaching positions and raise taxes by 2.9 per cent after tentatively approving the 2014-15 budget during last month’s deliberation meeting.
The 11 full-time teaching positions include one from a high school level speciality program, one from divisional learning support services and nine from yet to be determined grade levels. Eliminating the positions would result in $880,000 in reductions.
During her presentation to trustees, Johnston questioned how some board members are already predicting the 11 positions will be eliminated through attrition alone.
If 11 teachers don’t retire, she said, the first to go would be those on term contract positions or teachers in their first or second year. Since these teachers have less experience, their salaries are lower, meaning the division might have to cut as many as 16 positions to make up the $880,000 budget shortfall, Johnston explained.
"You are reducing the services to students who require the additional support the most," she told trustees. "With an increase in enrolment and a decrease in staff, workload issues and absenteeism as a method to cope with these pressures, cannot help but move to the forefront."
Manitoba Teachers’ Society president Paul Olson also attended Monday’s meeting and told the Sun balancing tax hikes and staff cuts is a "typical dilemma" for school boards across the province. But he said staff cuts are always felt in the classroom.
"Someone is going to feel this cut, and it’s going to be someone’s kid," Olson said.
He pointed out that school divisions are now welcoming students with significant cognitive, health and family issues that require extra supports in the classroom.
"We take great pride in trying to not just get them in the school door and park them in the corner of the room, but actually provide them with a quality education and that requires a lot of support services," Olson said. "So those cuts that are being considered are going to be felt."
Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 737 president Jamie Rose also spoke out against staff reductions, saying that taking teachers out of the classroom will "negatively" affect students.
Carla Milne, a member of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, said she wanted to provide input on behalf of local businesses and taxpayers. She told trustees to focus on "critical needs and not the wants" and that "taxpayers have been stretched to the limit."
Two other Brandon residents also spoke out against the board’s 2.9 per cent tax hike.
Ron Chambers said "the taxpayers here are tapped out on fixed incomes."
Ed Kostecki, a former teacher and principal, said "I think we need to start maybe holding the line. I don’t think it’s right having people taxed out of their homes."
Trustees will gather to finalize and approve the budget on March 10 and school board chair Mark Sefton said if past years are any indication, there will be amendments made.
"I’m sure there will be some deliberations," Sefton said. "There’s always a chance they’ve reconsidered things one way or the other."
Sefton added that the division is facing an infrastructure deficit and has presented an audit to the province’s Public Schools Finance Board.
Sefton said they local officials were told as a school division they are in "really good shape," but he admitted "we still know that there are going to be issues down the road.
"We’re already in a situation where we’re falling slowly behind, and that’s difficult because do you put your money in capital maintenance? Or do you put your money in classrooms?"
Sefton added BSD’s infrastructure needs are "more long term" and officials are waiting to hear the Public Schools Finance Board’s response to the audit.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 4, 2014