On a chilly Tuesday night, more than 130 people packed into the St. Vital Conference Room in the Louis Riel School Division (LRSD) all interested in one thing—what will LRSD look like next year?
The crowd, made up of LRSD staff, parents and students from all areas of the division, were invited by the LRSD Board of Trustees and the Senior Leadership Team to the public meeting for a deep dive into the proposed draft budget for the upcoming school year. With the recent announcement from the Manitoba government on school funding, this would be their first opportunity to see how LRSD proposed to build a balanced budget.
"Contractual obligations and aging infrastructure are putting pressure on us as a system. Some of our schools date back to the early 1900s and need constant repair," said Sandy Nemeth, Chair, LRSD Board of Trustees. "All expenditures are under review to protect teachers and educational assistants who are in the classrooms with our students. The draft budget also looks to protect recent investments in equity and inclusion."
At the meeting, Pamela Kolochuk, Finance and Audit Committee Chair, LRSD Board of Trustees, shared that as a result of the government announcement on school funding, LRSD will see a 0.9% decrease in provincial funding compared to the previous year's budget.
"Unfortunately, the decrease in funding from the province is not keeping up with the cost of living or enrolment that is projected to increase by 216 learners to reach 16,004 in 2020-2021," said Pamela Kolochuk. "In this fourth year of funding restraints, we are facing difficult decisions to achieve a balanced budget."
To better understand how funding has changed over the years, Kolochuk explained how provincial funding has been reduced from 52.19 per cent in the 2013-2014 school year to 45.91 per cent for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year. The Education Property Tax Credit has also continued to decrease from 13.39 per cent to 11.38 per cent over the same time period. While that may not seem significant, enrolment has climbed from 14,027 students in 2012 to 15,788 in 2019 as well as the front-line staff needed to support them such as classroom teachers and classroom educational assistants.
To help lessen the impact of the reduction, the Board of Trustees is considering an increase to the Special Requirement. Based on current assessments, this would result in a 1.12 per cent or $22.56 increase to a property taxpayer of an average home valued at $343,700 in LRSD. Taking into account all revenue sources, the Board of Trustees is proposing a budget of $196,265,953 for the 2020-2021 school year.
From 2012 to 2019, student enrolment increased by 11.96 per cent. Over the same eight-year period, board office staff decreased by 7.01 per cent. The Board made the decision to shift dollars from other areas of the organization to the classroom to accommodate the diverse needs of the growing student population and continues to look at options in 2020-2021.
The Board also continues to seek clarification from the government on its directive to reduce core management by 15 per cent.
"While the overall budget will increase by 0.97 per cent, we have to make sacrifices to protect what is at the core of all we do—student learning and well-becoming," said Christian Michalik, LRSD Superintendent. "All staff in LRSD contribute to our collective vision of caring and collaboration. All my colleagues love what they do and work incredibly hard to ensure our learners thrive and our communities flourish. Consequently, the sacrifice I will be asking of valued staff when I ask them to leave the job they love weighs heaviest on my heart."
While sacrifices to some areas are necessary, highlights of the proposed budget include continued funding for:
Full-day kindergarten pilot project ($487,000)
Indigenous Education ($1.6 million)
An additional 5.65 increase in full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers
"We are committed to doing everything we can to protect our core investments," said Sandy Nemeth, Chair, LRSD Board of Trustees. "This means no increases in overall class sizes and no reductions in the number of teachers or educational assistants."
Avery Shtykalo, a Grade 12 learner from J.H. Bruns, was in attendance and said she thought the presentation was illuminating and informative.
"I thought they did a really good job talking about all the difficult choices they have to make, but in a positive way," said Shtykalo. "They're trying to make sure students continue to get access to resources in different areas because that's what builds us for the future and gives us hope. That is what is most important for students."
Melissa Martin, a parent of four children, three of whom currently attend Darwin School, was in the front row at the public meeting.
"It was nice to see the numbers and how it all fits into the big picture. I'm happy to see the number of teachers will be increasing, but a little sad that the Educational Assistant numbers don't increase as well, because I know how important they are in classrooms, too," said Martin. "Knowing that we have a growing number of students, but we don't have a budget that is growing at the same level—I'm hoping we have enough for our kids to be able to get a quality education."
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