The Seine River School Division has announced a number of cost-saving measures in order to address the financial challenges it is currently facing.
The division says that since July, senior administration and the board of trustees have undertaken a comprehensive analysis of the division's finances. It says that results reveal that the division's financial trajectory has been significantly impacted by the freeze in local taxation and market volatilities introduced by COVID-19 over the last few years.
As a result of these financial challenges, the division says it will be implementing cost-saving measures.
Effective immediately, the division will institute a hiring freeze for all school-based vacancies, prioritizing internal reassignments or transfers before hiring additional staff across the division. Nonessential expenditures across schools and departments will also be scaled back.
"Eighty per cent of a divisional budget is allocated to staffing," says Superintendent Ryan Anderson. "And so, we had to look at a way to try to mitigate further spending in that area."
Anderson says that rather than considering more drastic measures that may have included layoffs to staff, they decided to freeze hiring and then look to fill those positions internally, wherever possible.
Then, beginning in January, the division will introduce 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.
Anderson says when considering cost-saving measures, the board of trustees and senior administration looked at cost drivers but also areas in their budget that are outside the scope of provincially mandated or provincially funded programs. Two such programs are their K-4 busing program and their KAP program.
With regard to their K-4 busing program, Anderson says this is for a very niche group of families who live within a very specific radius of a school. He explains that currently, aside from children with exceptional needs, there is no bus pickup for anybody who lives within .8 kilometres of a school. Anderson says the division then has a bus pickup program for K-4 students living between .8 and 1.6 kilometres of a school. Currently, students do not pay for this program. For all other students who live beyond 1.6 kilometres of a school, there is no fee for bus service.
Anderson says it is the K-4 pickup for students living between .8 and 1.6 kilometres of a school, that will start costing families money, beginning in January. He notes the division does not currently receive provincial funding to run this program. Further to that, the division says that school divisions in our province are no longer permitted to adjust their mil rates for education property taxes to raise additional revenue to offset these costs. According to Seine River, many school divisions in Manitoba have already made similar changes to the delivery of their services.
"The original decision to move to a K-4 busing model for that range of distance initially was reflected of safety concerns for students crossing major roadways or other things," explains Anderson. "But over the years we've found that many of the safety concerns that the division had previously have since been mitigated by municipalities across our division with improved crossing lights and walkways and other things."
Beginning on January 8, 2024, the cost for this service will be $200 per student for the remainder of the school year. The division says it will offer a subsidy to families who make less than $50,000 annually.
With regard to KAP, Anderson explains that this program fills out the day for Kindergarten students. He notes Seine River School Division offers a half-day Kindergarten program. However, to make life easier for families, they run an all-day program, with half the day being Kindergarten and the other half being KAP. Anderson explains that Kindergarten is offered by certified teachers delivering provincial curriculum, while KAP is offered by individuals who are trained and certified as early childhood educators, offering a play-based educational program for children.
"Our school division has for several years offered these programs at no cost to families because the division was in a financial position where it could do that," says Anderson. "And because of some factors that have limited our ability to generate local revenue, we can no longer continue to offer these programs at no cost."
Anderson adds many of their communities do not have adequate childhood facilities so eliminating the program would place quite a burden on whatever facilities exist.
According to the division, beginning on January 8, 2024, the cost of this program will be $10.00 per day, per student for the remainder of the school year. This cost is reflective of the daycare amount that was established by the province in 2022. The division says it will offer a subsidy to families who make less than $50,000 annually.
Anderson says making these cost-saving changes will likely not even allow the division to break even between now and June. Rather, he notes the intent is simply to reduce the cost impact for the division as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Board Chair Wendy Bloomfield says since going public with these announced changes, they have received several requests from individuals wanting to discuss the moves with the board.
"There is anxiety out there and we're trying to answer questions to the best of our ability and help people understand why we need to do this," says Bloomfield. "We have some serious financial considerations that we need to address."
Amanda Senkowski is Secretary-Treasurer. She says as of Tuesday afternoon, there are three delegations currently scheduled for the next board meeting and another delegation for the following meeting. She adds they have also been in consultation with the provincial education department and have its support and guidance in moving forward with these changes.
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