The Hanover School Board is getting some encouragement to increase local taxes for education.
At the public budget consultation meeting on Tuesday, a few people suggested that a tax increase is necessary to get the finances back on track, and to hire more teachers.
Finance Committee Chair Ron Falk says the school board will be discussing how much of a tax increase they are comfortable with, noting they do not want to put taxpayers through unnecessary hardship.
Kevin Martens, President of the Hanover Teachers’ Association, asked about hiring more teachers to reduce the Pupil to Teacher Ratio.
“Last year, due to government budget constraints, you were unable to hire the 15 teachers that were needed for growing student enrollment at that time,” said Martens. “Along with that, you were forced to cut 10 existing teaching positions. The effect was a rise in the teacher-student ratio by two students in almost every grade level across the division. So, my questions on that are, will you plan this budget to hire the 25 teachers necessary to catch up, plus the additional teachers to meet this year's anticipated growth? And the second part of that is to reduce the teacher-student ratio by at least two students for all the grade levels where it had increased?”
Falk responded by noting that Hanover is in a better position this year to hire more teachers.
“I think it's fair to say that our number one priority is students and hiring staff to teach students. And so, I think it's reasonable to assume that we're going to try to do everything we can to hire teachers where we need to hire teachers because we have more that ability this year than we did last year.”
Falk noted that Hanover has already been hiring additional teachers during the current school year.
“Even though we cut those 10.5 teachers here, we did hire an extra seven during the year because of the increased growth and enrollment during the year. So, it's not that we lost 10 for the whole year.”
Falk also pointed out that part of the provincial education funding announcement includes $3 million for new hires in Manitoba schools.
However, he pointed out that money would result in around 30 teachers spread out over 37 school divisions which means there is a chance that Hanover might not benefit from this funding. Those details have not been released by the province.
“If we decide to go with a tax increase, what is our comfort level in whatever number we decide to go with? I think it's safe to say though that not having a tax increase is not going to work,” said Falk. “It’s shown very clearly in the last three to four years, what happens with no tax increase. And there's no dollars left in the tank. I mean, when you have, right now, just under $1,000,000 in a reserve, that's pretty close to nothing. One of our neighboring divisions is in a lot worse shape. And all school divisions in the province are in bad shape right now, because this didn't just hit us. It hit every school division.”
Manitoba school divisions need to approve and submit their budgets to the province by the end of March.
The Hanover School Division is receiving $69.6 million for the 2024-25 school year, which is $4.6 million more than last year’s funding.