Trustees in the Seine River School Division approved a $62.6M budget this week which includes a drop in education taxes and a 4.8% increase in expenditures.
The province’s educational funding is not the astronomical amount the government claims it to be, says Wendy Bloomfield, Chair of the Seine River School Board.
To comply with the province’s mandate on local taxation for education, the mill rate is going down in Seine River, dropping by 10.7% which will result in a decrease of $194.37 on the education portion of the tax bill for homes valued at $300,000.
The mill rate is going down thanks to growth and increased assessment.
When looking at the provincial funding for Seine River and comparing it to expenses, Bloomfield says the division is looking at a very plain budget as they find ways to maintain what they have.
“I don’t think there will be a lot of enhancements,” she says.
In early February, the province announced a 6.1% increase in operational funding for Manitoba schools. At that time, Education and Early Childhood Learning Minister Wayne Ewasko stated, “Every division will see an increase in funding next year, which will help them engage students and invest in the programs and services that will best meet the needs of local communities.”
Bloomfield says even though Seine River received a 7.1% increase in provincial funding, it is not enough to make a lot of investments because they are facing increased expenses.
“For the last number of years, because the province dictated that we had to hold salary increases to a minimum which we did, but now our employee groups are looking at what the cost of living is going up at, currently around 7 to 8% and they're wanting some catch up,” she explains.
Of the $62.6M budget, 82.3% is going toward salaries and benefits.
Bloomfield refers to the new financial plan for the division as a ‘near-status-quo' budget.
“Although the funding increase was appreciated, it's definitely not going to really allow us to increase or add programs or teachers or anything like that.”
Aside from salary increases, Bloomfield notes there are other costs that have gone up significantly.
“Gas costs of course,” she quickly points out. “We drive a million and a half kilometers a year, at least.”
The rural school division covers a large area and transportation expenses continue to rise, for fuel as well as maintenance of vehicles.
The Seine River School Division has 61 bus routes that cover 2,160 square kilometers.
Bloomfield says the cost of insurance is one area that is often overlooked by the public when they think about the cost of operating schools.
“Insurance costs have risen over 20% in the past few years,” she notes. “So, insurance for all of our buildings and liability insurance for buildings, that sort of thing, that's quite a significant impact.”