Hanover School District superintendent Shelley Amos speaks at a public budget meeting on March 7. Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

On March 7, the provincial government went public with their 2023 budget plan, framing this year’s school funding as historic and the largest increase in a quarter-century.

That same evening, the Hanover School Division (HSD) held its own public budget meeting. Based on this year’s provincial funding model, they say, major clawbacks are inevitable if HSD hopes to meet the 2023–24 school budget benchmarks.

“In order for us to accomplish our mission and our priorities… we believe that education needs robust funding provided by the Manitoba government,” superintendent Shelley Amos told meeting attendees. “And we believe that the funding we’ve received this year is not the astronomical amount that they’ve published out in the media thus far.”

When comparing HSD’s baseline funding from the province, this year’s increase looks fairly significant at 9.3 percent. Last year, HSD received $57.2 million. This year, they received $62.5 million.

But the province topped up their baseline funding to school divisions last year to provide additional wage assistance and special needs programming and student supports. This meant an extra $3.4 million in HSD’s coffers.

If no further funding can be expected from the province this year, it will mean that HSD has only 1.8 percent more to work with this year over last year.

With budgeted expenditures of nearly $100 million anticipated for the next school year, the province’s funding will cover just better than 60 percent of the division’s total costs.

Until recently, the balance was made up through school taxes charged to property owners. The division set the mill rate based on their annual budget minus provincial funding for the year.

But with the rapid phase out of school taxes charged on property bills, this financial tool will soon no longer be available to school divisions.

According to Danielle Funk, HSD’s finance chairperson, the division has experienced either a decrease or freeze on their school tax funding every year since 2018.

In lieu of this loss, the province provides equalization initiatives through a Property Tax Offset grant. HSD will see just over $2 million in funding from the grant this year, the equivalent of about two percent of their budgeted costs.

According to Funk, the grant doesn’t make up for the exponential population growth being seen throughout the division. This growth that will affect the costs and resources needed to run the school division going forward.

“A Manitoba Municipal Relations report indicates growth in the RM of Hanover, town of Niverville, and city of Steinbach,” Funk said. “Based on these communities, it appears that HSD saw growth in assessment of about 3.14 percent… Our students don’t get to realize the growth of the 3.14 percent. It creates a further funding gap [for us].”

At the end of the day, cuts to HSD’s expenditures in 2023–24 will have to be somewhere in the area of $2.7 million if the division is to maintain its five percent increase for inflation and wage increases. This, Funk says, is the equivalent of 27 teacher salaries.

Should the division go this route, it will result in larger class sizes, fewer student supports, and fewer course options.

Alternatively, cuts can also be made to special needs services, urban and kindergarten busing services, field trips, and swim programs, among other things.

“Our message to the province, and to you, is either don’t factor in the increase of assessment when calculating equalization funding, or allow us to maintain our mill rate and reflect the growth without an increase to individual taxpayers,” Funk said.

Ron Falk, chairperson for the board of trustees, closed the meeting with some final thoughts.

“We’re certainly very disappointed with the way this has turned out,” said Falk. “That wasn’t the indication that we were given not all that long ago. It was quite the opposite of this. So to have this come is certainly a big blow to us.”

By Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 09, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   The Citizen   Niverville, Manitoba
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