Salaries make up the lion’s share of any business or large organization, be they in the private or public sector.
And the Brandon School Division is no different, where salaries for teachers and other staff make up approximately 85 per cent of the annual budget. That leaves only 15 per cent of a yearly budget to run division services and maintain buildings.
While costs year over year for school operations do increase — not to mention the added costs that come with an increasing enrolment for the BSD — most of the difficulties facing school divisions across the province are due to ballooning teacher salaries.
And with the four-year collective agreement between Manitoba school divisions and the Manitoba Teachers’ Society set to expire on June 30, every public school teacher in the province will start bargaining for a new contract on July 1.
The expiring collective agreement had given teachers two 1.5 per cent raises the first year, and three years of two per cent raises. While BSD board chair Mark Sefton said that contract gave trustees some “predictability,” it also pushed teacher salaries into the stratosphere.
And perhaps, right out of the market.
As of the first day of the 2010-11 school year, a Class 5 teacher with 10 years of experience could expect to make $75,249. By the final year of that contract, a Class 5 teacher with 10 years of experience now makes $81,053. Of course, not all teachers make that wage. Class 1 teachers in their first year make a current annual salary of $35,379, and a Class 7 with 11 years experience (the highest wage level) makes $92,682 per annum.
With all this in mind, we were simply shocked last week when Sefton told a Winnipeg reporter that he was worried that in the next round of contract negotiations, teachers will seek the level of higher increases that police and firefighters are getting.
As the Sun has recently reported, Brandon police received a 4.4 per cent raise last January, plus a top-up in July. And this year, police officers will receive a further three per cent increase. And in the most recent municipal compensation disclosure supplied by the city — from 2012 — a quarter of Brandon police were already making in excess of $100,000.
Sefton’s comment could not have been made in the dark. Certainly he either suspects that the Manitoba Teachers’ Society intends to push hard for these kinds of wage increases or he has been tipped off.
Since the NDP came to power in this province, school divisions have been at the mercy of arbitrators when it comes to teacher salaries. We’ve said this before on this page, but it’s worth repeating: It comes down to either negotiation or binding arbitration for teachers, who don’t have the right to strike in this province.
As a result, salary costs continue to inflate, as arbitrators look around the province for comparable increases.
So when it recently came to light that in order to reduce spending and keep any tax hike to a minimum, possibly dozens of teaching positions had come under the knife in the BSD 2014-15 budget, we were not really surprised. Teacher salaries have been heading in this direction for years.
As you can read in today’s Sun, division trustees in Brandon tentatively approved the budget yesterday, making about $920,000 in cuts and reductions, and axing 11 teaching positions in the process — the majority of those possibly eliminated through retirements.
While the resulting 2.9 per cent proposed tax increase is better than the board’s “worst case” scenario of a four per cent increase, it will not be enough of a cut for some outspoken ratepayers in this city.
Nevertheless, these cuts are not welcome news to teachers, the union, nor to Brandon parents or their kids. And there’s proof enough of that. Of the 486 residents who filled out a recent division survey regarding the five funding scenarios for the budget, more than 90 per cent of respondents wanted taxes to go up by four per cent because they were concerned over the quality of education.
Clearly the survey, which was handed out to media during yesterday’s meeting, was skewed by a small sample size and an overly large number of participating parents and students, if not teachers to boot. It should not even have been conducted — four per cent is simply untenable. No matter how much we value a quality education for our children, we simply cannot continue to do so at all costs.
How these cuts will ultimately affect the collective bargaining process as it begins later this year is anybody’s guess, but we can likely describe the mood around the table in a single word.