As we predicted just a few short weeks ago, the Brandon School Division says it has no choice but to raise taxes again this year.
On Friday, division board chair Mark Sefton said taxpayers can expect to see — at the very least — a 5.5 per cent mill rate increase this year. This in spite of the fact that, only days earlier, provincial Education Minister Nancy Allan touted the fact that Brandon would get one of the largest education funding increases in the province this year, for the second year in a row.
The Sun previously reported that Brandon will see an 8.4 per cent increase in provincial funding this year, which translates into a hike of $3.2 million. About $609,000 of that will go to ease the cost of increasing enrolment levels, with the remaining $2.6 million earmarked as equalization.
While that’s good news for the school division, Sefton says all of that new money is still not good enough to meet the needs of Brandon’s growing student population.
“Once we factored in expected enrolment growth for the next year, even with the increase in funding and making no additions to programs and services, we would still have a deficit of $2.8 million,” Sefton told the Sun on Friday. “When you put all of those together and then that increase, though (it) was generous and based on enrolment, that increase has now kind of disappeared.”
We have to agree with Sefton that in terms of Brandon’s fast-growing student population, holding the line on new spending is not really an option.
But the 5.5 per cent mill rate increase — which equates to an extra $76 per year on a home valued at $200,000 — is only the bottom end of a likely tax hike. With trustees predicting a three per cent enrolment increase for 2014, which will require about 27 new teaching positions, Sefton says the board is also considering the addition of 46 resource requirement positions to the 2013-14 budget plan for a total of $4.6 million in new spending.
If all these budget requests are approved — which Sefton assures will not happen — it would result in a mill rate increase of 11.3 per cent, or a tax increase of $157 on a $200,000 house.
Ouch. For Brandonites who already feel overtaxed, this will not be welcome news. And we’re quite sure that division trustees are aware of the fact that they will not be highly popular folks among Brandon ratepayers this year if this mill rate hike holds true.
But before the pitchforks start coming out, there are a few other numbers to consider, supplied by the Manitoba Education Schools’ Finance Branch and its 2011-12 FRAME Report. According to the report, the Brandon School Division spent about $9,550 per student last year, the fourth-lowest per pupil expenditure in any of Manitoba’s 37 school divisions. Only the Western, Hanover and Garden Valley school divisions spend less per student.
The report also breaks down operating fund revenues for each division. In BSD’s case, 61.8 per cent of the division’s operating revenues come from the province (the ninth lowest percentage), while municipal taxes make up 36.5 per cent of the division’s operating revenues, (the fourth largest percentage).
As we’ve said before, the provincial government’s questionable mandate for class size limits in kindergarten to Grade 3 is only serving to exacerbate Brandon’s ongoing growing pains and financial strains. And while the province’s $3.2-million funding increase sounds like a lot, it falls rather short of this city’s actual need.
But then, we can’t completely fault the province either, as it has actually increased its percentage of overall education funding from 64.8 per cent in 2009-10 to 65.2 per cent in 2011-12. This even as the NDP government sinks further and further into financial red ink.
There are no easy solutions to this funding problem. But if we want our children to have a bright future, and to offer newcomers the best chance at integrating into our community, we have to be prepared to pay for their education.
Unfortunately, the price tag for that education keeps growing.