Original Published 11:24 Apr 28, 2022

By Sara Beth Dacombe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

For the second year in a row, the Hanover School Division will be working with a smaller budget and fewer teachers.

The HSD budget for 2022–23 is one of the tightest budgets ever put forth by the division. It cuts 16 teaching positions, which Finance Committee Chair Rick Peters says was necessary due to a decrease in enrollment.

“One of our challenges is our reduction in enrollment over the last couple of years,” says Peters. “We’ve seen a number of students enter the homeschool route, resulting in the loss of around 600 students to total enrollment in the HSD.”

Peters explains that the division anticipated some homeschooling students to return in the fall of 2021, but not as many returned as division leaders thought. With the downturn in enrollment, funding from the Province of Manitoba was reduced and the division was forced to make cuts.

Although the removal of 16 teaching positions is significant, Peters says the job cuts are not permanent and that the division is committed to hiring more to meet the actual enrollment needs this upcoming fall should the number of students increase.

He adds that the lost teaching positions come from the temporary teachers that the division hires each year—and that there has been no reduction in the permanent teaching staff.

“The reduction in staff will not be impacting the classroom,” Peters says.

Peters says that the 2022–23 financial plan was extremely challenging in terms of deciding which areas of the budget could be reduced without impacting students.

Other areas that will see cuts are IT infrastructure and transportation. HSD maintains one of the largest bus fleets in the province. Servicing 5,300 students and covering a considerable rural area, it is a significant responsible to keep buses running and in good shape.

Peters says that the division tries to keep the fleet of buses up to date and they always aim to renew the fleet by budgeting to replace older units with new buses.

“It’s always a matter of balancing the needs and wants,” he explains. “If it meant keeping a few more teachers, we were willing to look at a lot of different areas to see what could give and that ended up being in transportation. We decided we could extend the life of some of our school buses, so we decided to purchase two less replacement school buses.”

A Second Year of Cuts. Why?

This is the second year in a row with cuts to teaching positions, IT infrastructure, and transportation. In 2021–22, the division also submitted a smaller budget due to lower enrollment and the province’s local school tax freeze, which resulted in the loss of two full-time teaching positions and two learning coach positions.

Peters says that, overall, a tax freeze is felt as a decrease in the total money available to the division. School taxes—also known as the Education Special Levy—are intended to cover the financial gap created by partial government funding of the school division budget. There are no other significant means available to HSD to ensure that they are able to fully fund education services in our communities.

According to the HSD website, “The Board of Trustees recognizes that while tax increases are sometimes needed to maintain a high quality of education, annual marginal tax increases will have less budgetary impact on taxpayers than a large tax increase, followed by a temporary freeze. Spreading the required cost over time, evenly and marginally, reflects a recognition of household budget pressures.”

Budget Increases

What didn’t get cut was the need for additional COVID expense relief measures, which are planned to continue or increase in 2022–23, such as cleaning protocols and supplies.

The budget also calls for a funding increase in the area of “special needs.” This aligns with a recent announcement from the provincial government to introduce one year of additional funding to support students with special needs in Manitoba schools.

The exact amount allocated per school is not known, but HSD says that their intention is to determine what is needed and hire additional staffing resources pending the amount received.

Low Budget, High Expectations

HSD has one of the lowest budgets in the province when it comes to what is spent on average per student. According to the HSD website, the average cost to educate one Hanover student is $11,278. The provincial average is $13,436.

Administration costs are also lower than the provincial average. Even though HSD is the eighth largest school division in Manitoba, administrative costs make up only 2.4 per cent of the overall budget while the provincial average is 2.8 per cent.

When compared to other school divisions, HSD’s local taxation is also below the Manitoba provincial average and has not increased with the rate of inflation.

HSD is subject to a provincially mandated education property tax freeze, so raising the taxation to levels comparative to the provincial average is out of the question.

“A large chunk of our funding comes from this local taxation, where the province has frozen that,” says Peters. “We are the eighth lowest in assessment value per pupil, which comes from overall property and business value, which means our ability to tax locally isn’t the same as other divisions. There are 29 divisions in the province that have a higher tax base than we do, but our mill rate is among the highest in the province.”

Peters says that budget planners take into consideration whether or not spending below average is a good thing or if Hanover residents should be concerned that less money is being spent on their students compared to other divisions.

“We do wrestle with this, with aiming to be fiscally responsible, which I feel we are,” says Peters. “We also know that getting more money from local taxation means our taxes would go up, but we don’t necessarily want to be the lowest.”

This item reprinted with permission from The Niverville Citizen, Niverville, Manitoba