Brandon school trustees would have to cut dozens of staffing positions next year to achieve a property tax freeze for the 2014-15 budget.
"If we went to take down that possible four per cent (tax increase) to zero, then we’d have to take $3.6 million out in staffing," division chairman Mark Sefton told the Sun on Friday. "We need to reduce spending by $900,000 for every one per cent (cut) in taxes."
The average full-time teacher makes approximately $80,000, Sefton said. For every one per cent of taxes saved, Brandon would hire 11 fewer teachers — freezing taxes would chop possibly 44 teaching positions, and that would be achieved by offering fewer high school courses. Reductions would come through attrition, not replacing all teachers who retire or leave June 30, he said.
Salaries account for about 85 per cent of the school division’s budget. Taxes would have to increase by four per cent just to maintain the same level of staffing and programming as this current school year — and that’s despite Brandon School Division enrolments continuing to grow again in September.
This is one possible scenario of five currently before board trusted and posted online at bsd.ca. The other four include scenarios that range from a one per cent to a four percent property tax increase.
"This year, there’s no additions whatsoever" in the division’s draft budget, Sefton said.
High schools offer a wide range of vocational, band, world issues, music, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate courses, well beyond the core courses, Sefton said.
Students need 30 credits for a high school diploma, but, "our students graduate with an average of 36 credits. Some graduate with 40, 42," he said.
Brandon trustees are also considering a 15-student class size minimum enrolment in a course in order to offer it.
"There was some discontent among taxpayers," which has led trustees to think about a pause in expansion this year, Sefton said.
On the other hand, when the board meets all day Tuesday to hammer out close to a final budget version, trustees are aware that students and parents "see those (courses) as enriching in their lives."
As the Sun previously reported, more than 100 community members gathered to hear from trustees and state their concerns during the division’s public budget forum on Wednesday night.
"Their plea was, please don’t set limits on the number of courses we can take, or on class sizes," Sefton said.
In order to meet a provincially-mandated class size limit for kindergarten to Grade 3, the BSD has slowly been hiring new teaching staff for those grades in the last few years. Sefton says any possible staff reductions would not occur in these grade levels.
"Any reductions we do would have to come from (grades) four to 12," he said.
He also noted, though, that he does not expect board members will vote to freeze property taxes.
"I would say it’s unlikely that we would get down to zero. The cost to kids would be too much. But that’s just me speculating."
When Education Minister James Allum increased the province’s share of funding two per cent or $24.4 million two weeks ago, Allum said school divisions have enough money to maintain the quality of education without raising taxes.
Nevertheless, the average cost of operating the public school system has gone up roughly $70 million to $80 million in recent years. Even with the provincial funding increase, the Brandon division is still facing a $1.3-million deficit.
Every public school teacher in Manitoba will start bargaining for a new contract July 1 — the great unknown in determining just how much money trustees will have to put in their final budgets next month.
Sefton said Brandon is not giving any hint of how much money it’s setting aside for retroactive increases in salary and benefits in the new deals still to be negotiated.
The four-year deal expiring June 30 gave teachers two 1.5 per cent raises the first year, and three years of two per cent raises. "That four-year agreement gave us some predictability," Sefton said.
Sefton said he’s worried that teachers will seek the level of higher increases that police and firefighters are getting.
Trustees are loathe to let the Manitoba Teachers’ Society know how much they’re willing to pay on a new contract.
MTS officials could not be reached in time for comment.
Pembina Trails School Division released a draft budget Thursday night calling for a 4.2 per cent increase in school property taxes.
PTSD indicated it would hire almost eight additional full-time equivalent teachers while dropping 12 teacher’s aides. Its budget for salaries, benefits and increments for all employees would go up 3.8 per cent.
However, Louis Riel School Division has a draft budget with a 3.79 per cent tax increase, but wage and benefit spending going up only 2.56 per cent.
And River East Transcona trustees have proposed a 3.3 per cent tax increase, but only a 2.2 per cent increase in the salary budget.
Those two proposals suggest that trustees would offer teachers a basic wage increase less than the two per cent they’ve been getting the past three years.
And in the Virden area, Fort la Bosse trustees are setting aside $320,000 for all employees — it currently employs 233 people, including 92 teachers.
» Winnipeg Free Press, with files from Matt Goerzen
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 15, 2014