The Hanover School Board is in a tough position and will have to make some difficult decisions this week regarding budget cuts.
They have until the end of this month to approve their financial plan and Chair Ron Falk says there just isn’t enough money going into education in Manitoba.
While some divisions are in a better position financially, Hanover is not one of them as trustees look for ways to reduce their expenses by $2.7M.
As a result of a provincially mandated education property tax freeze, Falk says the division’s revenue does not equal the increased financial need caused by inflation and certain rising salaries.
Last week, the division had to lower the mill rate to stay in line with the mandate.
“The way it is now, we can't even tax for the increase in assessment,” Falk says. “And so, the mill rate actually comes down. So now, since 2018, the mill rate has either remained the same or decreased every single year. Somehow that doesn't quite seem fair to education.”
Falk also questions recent funding announcements made by the province, particularly the additional money for municipalities.
“The municipalities were given all kinds of additional money, up to 68% and yet education can't tax to even a constant level,” he says. “It doesn't quite add up.”
The board held a public consultation meeting last week, much later than usual. Falk explains there was a delay in getting the necessary information from the province, some of the details only trickled in during the same day of the meeting.
Following the board’s presentation of the budget challenges, the room fell silent.
“It was kind of a heavy feeling in the room,” Falk admits. “What can you say when you're told that these are the kind of dollars, 2.7 million have to be cut, what do you say to that? There’s not a lot of encouragement there to provide people. And for some of our administration, every single year they’ve been in head office, they've had to cut, cut, cut. And yet we think we're running pretty good programs; we're running a lot of good things for the students and staff, and yet at some point... you just can't do with less.”
Two years ago, Hanover faced budget challenges and was forced to cut infrastructure upgrades, furniture purchases and, most notably, about four educator positions. Last year, they cut 16 teaching positions.
Falk is frustrated they are dealing with such a tight budget, year after year.
“You want to provide excellence and you want to provide supports that obviously people need, the students need,” he says. “And some of it just will not happen. That's just the bottom line.”
Hanover’s current budget proposal already includes freezing the School Instructional budget, as well as budgets for Maintenance, Transportation, and Professional Development.
School boards are still waiting for a conclusion to the province’s negotiations with teachers. Those results will also impact budgets for all divisions.
“The reality is we all want higher wages, including staff in Hanover school division,” he says. “We all want to provide services. We have been talking about mental health issues for years now. Since the pandemic, it has only gotten considerably worse. And now we're supposed to cut back on some services potentially? We're supposed to cut back potentially on some EAs. We're supposed to cut back potentially on teachers. Potentially on other programs. Those are the kind of decisions we have to make in the next week and that's where the challenge comes in.”
With the deadline looming for all school divisions to approve their budgets, the pressure is on to get it all done before the end of March.
Meanwhile, Falk notes that Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen has agreed to a meeting where they will further discuss the challenges and frustrations related to funding for education.
There is still time for public feedback on the financial presentation. The slides and video presentation are available online at hsd.ca and feedback can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org