The past year has been an emotional roller coaster for the Seine River School Board. 

Chair Wendy Bloomfield says 2023 started with a good financial picture which turned bleak with the division now running a $1.45-million deficit. 

School divisions require approval from the provincial government in order to operate with a deficit. 

“We set our budget in March, and we were at that point projecting a $3.0 million surplus,” she says. “However, starting in May of last year, we were notified by government that there had been a calculation error in the property tax offset grant which was concerning and that it was half a million dollars.” 

Even with that realization, she was not too concerned as they were still planning for a surplus. 

“However, we had a new secretary treasurer come on board and in late July, because of that one inaccuracy, we felt it would be important to have her do a double check on the budget and make sure we knew where things were at. And at that point, we started getting an indication that things were not as good as we thought they were going to be.” 

Normally, the school division would have an audit completed by the end of October each year but there was a lot of work that needed to be done before an audit could happen. 

By the end of November, the Seine River School Division received a clean audit, Bloomfield reports. 

“And that was due to the corrections that the new Secretary Treasurer had to make to the budget,” she notes. “And at that point in time, we went from a $3.0 million projected surplus to the end of June to a $1.45 million deficit. As things began unfolding from late July into early fall, we knew that we were going to have to be making some hard decisions, and we started talking about contingencies and where we could save as much as possible. That led to an announcement early in November about some changes that were expected and that led to a lot of public... I guess, anxiety and anger, and questioning where this came from. And quite frankly, we were still in the middle of trying to figure out where it came from.” 

One of the cost-cutting measures is a partial hiring freeze

“Which is essentially if somebody's away on a sick leave or maybe a mat leave or whatever, we look internally and, in the school, and see if there's somebody who isn't currently assigned to a classroom that could maybe fill a short-term vacancy rather than hire somebody,” Bloomfield explains. “That's not always possible. So, there have still been hirings, but we are trying to limit any new hires as much as possible and avoid any layoffs, at least until the end of this budget year.” 

Also in November, the school division announced a fee-for-services model for specific programs and services, including K-4 busing and the Kids at Play (KAP) program. Historically, these have been offered by the division at no cost to families but are not funded by the province. K-4 busing services are provided to K-4 students who live between 0.8 and 1.6 kilometres from their designated schools. The KAP program is a play-based program that offsets half-day Kindergarten programs across the division.  

Bloomfield notes they have asked the province to consider funding the KAP program as a pilot project, saying they are trying to find ways to reduce the financial impact on families. 

The division met with the education minister on December 11th and Bloomfield feels it went really well and is hopeful the province will be able to offer some financial support. 

Meanwhile, the Seine River School Division is in the process of building the budget for the next school year. 

Surveys have been sent out and published on their website, looking for input on some ideas for cost-saving measures. 

“We're asking questions where people feel we could look at further cuts. So far, we have, within this budget year, reduced spending by about $1.4 million by not filling a couple of divisional vacancies, limiting some professional development expenses.” 

Bloomfield says they realize this is having a huge impact on staff and communities. 

“It's been a really difficult time, with lots of emotions. For me personally, when all this started surfacing, it was a feeling like, wow... everything that I feel I've worked for over the past 40 years, could be gone. And that was really hard.” 

Looking at the numbers, Bloomfield says it has become obvious that the growing school division is greatly impacted by the changes made to funding for education. 

“One of the things that in looking at this, we realized that the decision that the previous government made to rebate the property tax or to remove the school tax itself from the property tax bill, has affected us in a number of ways. The Property Tax Offset grant was supposed to help with that. And it does to an extent. But what it doesn't do is allow us to see the money that we would typically get from increases in regular assessment. 

“With Seine River School Division, we have a normal tax increase of about 3% per year. We're no longer getting that, and we have about a 3% student enrollment increase year over year. So, our enrollment is going up and the money that we have to run non-funded programs is going down.” 

One of the school trustees is an accountant and Bloomfield says he has calculated that over the past three years, it's estimated that Seine River has lost $3.5 million in revenue and possibly more. 

“We didn't really realize this until all this started surfacing. And we know now that it's affected a lot of other growing divisions in particular. What's happened is our mill rate on property tax has actually gone down from 14.2 mills to 12 mills over the past three years which resulted in a loss of 5.2 million. And even with the property tax offset grant that was supposed to compensate for that, we still have a net shortfall of $3.6 million. It’s really, really difficult to realize that this is happening.” 

On a positive note, this past year saw the provincial government commit to building a new vocational high school in the Town of Ste. Anne. 

Also, the school board has reworked the board values, vision, and belief statements. It has also set strategic priorities. 


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