The Fort La Bosse School Division, like all Manitoba school divisions, is facing a decrease of two per cent in provincial funding for the fourth consecutive year. Some programs are suffering, but the division will hire an additional 1.5 teaching staff.
Enrolment at 1,513 is up by 40 students and given the rise in the cost of living, the division’s management is challenged with running a dozen schools on less money than last year.
FLBSD will have 0.5 percent more money to spend in 2020-21, or $102,000 more than in 2019-20. Meanwhile there are costs they don’t control such as the price of fuel, depreciation of school buses, collective salary agreements and the carbon tax.
Superintendent Barry Pitz explained that replacing retiring staff with new staff at a lower salary has enabled the division to buy one new bus per year.
Other savings have been found: “Non-contact days for support staff are not getting paid.” This means that on PD days when kids aren’t in school, support staff are no longer paid, saving the division about $45,000.
“We’re trying to prioritize… it has always boiled down to the kids, to keep from cutting in the classroom,” said Pitz.
While Secretary-Treasurer Kent Reid presented a balanced budget of nearly $19 million, the bottom line for ratepayers is that the mill rate will decrease ever so slightly.
Homeowners with property assessed at $100,000 would see a school tax decrease of $19.32.
Farm property assessed at $500,000 would see an increase of $25 on their taxes; commercial property assessed at $250,000 would pay an additional $85.22 on the school portion of their taxes.
Reid explained at the outset of the meeting that the division used to set their budget based upon divisional plans to best meet students’ educational needs. Now, under provincial directives, even their surplus savings is capped at four per cent, an amount their auditor thinks should be eight per cent to allow for operational needs (busses, infrastructure replacement, etc.).
“Effectively, they’re running the school division,” said Reid. “The only thing we do have left is how we maneuver within [the budget].”
Likening the 12-school division to a business enterprise, Reid pointed out that FLBSD is a big employer in the region. The core employees are 110 teachers and 35 classroom educational assistants. Additionally, there’s support staff, a host of bus drivers for the 27 routes. And office staff.
Reid said, “You do have to look at your business through different lenses… from outside the box. Barry and I have had lots of conversations. Since the 20 years we’ve been [budgeting], in the last two years… it’s challenging us. … And, there’s no doubt, the province is trying to get their affairs in order.”
Along with school board members, several teachers, and members of the public and the press, Virden mayor, Murray Wright and RM of Wallace-Woodworth councilor Mark Humphries attended.
In question period, Humphries asked the division and board, “What would you like to see us do?”
Mayor Wright asked, “Does it help if councils speak up for education?”
Find the budget presentation here: