Members of the Brandon School Division board have a choice to make in their upcoming budget deliberations — will they call on taxpayers to pay for a Cadillac education for Brandon students, or a more cost-efficient Honda Civic model.
Of course, the actual educational choices ahead of our trustees are hardly that simplistic. But of the five budget scenarios under consideration by the board, it will come down to decisions of need and economy versus desirability and luxury.
As the Sun has recently reported, the division posted these five budget scenarios on its website, based on an average residential property value increase of 10 per cent. They include the following:
• Scenario One — a status quo budget that results in a four per cent increase in school taxes, with no reductions required.
• Scenario Two — a three per cent increase in school taxes that would require $900,000 in reductions
• Scenario Three — a two per cent increase in school taxes, with $1.8 million in reductions required
• Scenario Four — One per cent increase in school taxes that would require $2.7 million in reductions
• Scenario Five — No increase in school taxes, a situation that would require $3.6 million in reductions.
Board chair Mark Sefton previously billed the 2014-15 budget as a “status quo” budget, as the board decided not to include any new program spending. Unfortunately, the budget still required an additional $3.6 million, if no reductions in spending were made.
In spite of a recent announcement by Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum that Manitoba schools will see a two per cent — or $24.4-million — funding increase, the division will still be facing a $1.3-million deficit. So trustees are left to consider their options — cut spending, raise taxes, or find a balance of both.
The pressures facing the school division — namely increasing salaries that make up the bulk of its budget, and the ballooning enrolment figures for division schools — have not made things easier. In fact, the division is predicting enrolment will grow another 124 students to a full tally of 8,437 for this coming September.
Being realistic, and given these realities, it seems highly unlikely that this board will cut program spending by the full $1.3 million, and we believe Brandon taxpayers should count on seeing their education taxes go up. The question really is by how much.
But to appease taxpayers who have seen more than their fair share of tax hikes over the last few years, trustees are considering a 15-student class size minimum for high school curriculum courses, which could save about $480,000. Sefton says these changes would generally affect optional courses that are “not part of the compulsory credits” needed for graduation or access to secondary education.
Pupil to teacher ration changes could also save between $800,000 to $2.4 million. At the same time, the BSD is also proposing a cap on the number of courses high school students can take, with a limit of between 34 and 38 courses over a four-year period.
Though these are worthy discussions to have, no doubt they will have an impact on students.
Any time that school boards start talking about cuts, and not additions to spending, the more vocal elements in the community become those pushing to keep education a priority. And predictably that happened on Wednesday night when more than 100 community members gathered at École Harrison to share their concerns regarding the division’s preliminary budget — including a contingent of perhaps 25 students who voiced their concerns over program and course cuts.
We can sympathize with those students who don’t wish to see the quality of their education — particularly their options — affected by fiscal matters, and we can roundly applaud them for speaking up so passionately.
But as most of them will find out when they attempt to purchase their first car, affordability must be one of the foremost considerations.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 14, 2014