The Brandon School Division board of trustees made some tough decisions during Monday’s preliminary budget presentation, since they had to come up with a way of addressing a $720,500 shortfall for the 2021-22 school year.
After considering three different scenarios, the board ultimately decided to remove three full-time equivalent positions from this upcoming budget and reduce another $445,100 worth of line items in areas such as divisional-based supplies, advertising and divisional-based salaries.
Even though the budget won’t be officially finalized until March 8, no BSD board member was thrilled about taking this approach, with chairperson Linda Ross even apologizing to the public at the tail end of the meeting.
"None of us are happy about it, as you can tell, but we had difficult decisions to make and we had no options," she said. "I don’t expect you to like what we did, but I hope that you will understand why we had to do it."
During Monday’s presentation, BSD secretary-treasurer Denis Labossiere outlined why the division is contending with a $720,500 shortfall in the first place, revealing that this deficit is largely due to the restrictions imposed on them by the provincial government.
One of the biggest factors was Education Minister Cliff Cullen’s recent decision to freeze every school division’s ability to collect property taxes, which was made worse by the fact that BSD is already contending with a $21.62 tax decrease on homes assessed at $270,000.
"Just for your information, had we been able to retain that $21.62 on the average residential property, that would have given us $600,000 that we would not have to cut from our budget," said Ross, addressing the public directly during Monday’s meeting.
Labossiere also pointed out that the province’s decision to cap the increase on their special requirement — the amount required to be raised from municipalities during the division’s fiscal year — at two per cent also didn’t help, since this represents the board’s final source of revenue to fund budgeted expenditures.
Because of all this, the BSD’s projected revenue for the 2021-22 budget, as of Monday, is $109,822,700, which won’t be able to offset the overall operating expenditures of $110,543,200 barring some drastic measures.
At the end of Labossiere’s presentation, trustee Jim Murray didn’t mince words about his distaste for the province’s recent decisions, which he views as especially callous given that teachers and students are facing unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It’s beyond troubling to me that this government is pushing ahead with its eyes on the bottom line, more interested in saving money than meeting the needs of our children," he said.
On top of the severe measures the board took to address the shortfall, Murray also reluctantly withdrew his budget requests to hire eight new school counsellors and secure additional funding for the division’s nutrition programs, realizing that there is simply no money left for such things.
"These eight school counsellors would have a major impact on our system at a time when it’s needed more than it’s ever been needed in the history of education in this country, and we can’t do it because a guy in Winnipeg wants to balance a budget," he said.
Equally forlorn was trustee Lisa Letain, who revealed during Monday’s meeting that coming up with the 2021-22 budget is one of the "lowest experiences" she’s had a member of the BSD board, "given that the government has put us in such a position where we can’t support the things that we believe in."
This meeting stands in stark contrast to the BSD’s 2020-21 budget, which, at $107,691,800, made room for expenditures such as: two full-time speech-language pathologist positions, multiple vice-principal positions and extra learning resources for students with communication needs.
However, moving into the 2021-22 school year and beyond, Ross believes that these resources could be in short supply, given the PC government’s general philosophy toward funding public education.
"This seems like an opportune moment to remind people that it is the intention of this government to eliminate local taxation for schools," she said on Monday. "So my question is: given that 40 per cent of our budget comes from the local taxpayer, where are we going to find that money?"
BSD’s public consultation on the 2021-22 budget will be streaming online this upcoming Monday at 7 p.m.
Anyone looking to obtain more information about the BSD’s ongoing 2021-22 budget process can visit their official website at bsd.ca/board/budgetfinance.
» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson