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Today's lesson on making do

Education minister unveils small funding hike

Posted: 01/31/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 01/31/2014 6:47 AM | Updates

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Teacher Erin Murphy works with her grades 2/3 class during reading time at O.V. Jewitt Community School Thursday.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Teacher Erin Murphy works with her grades 2/3 class during reading time at O.V. Jewitt Community School Thursday. Photo Store

Seriously, school trustees -- can you provide a quality education next September without raising school taxes?

Education Minister James Allum declared Thursday he's done his job -- now it's up to school trustees to do their job of providing a quality education with the money they already have.

The rookie minister unveiled next year's public schools operating grants Thursday, providing a two per cent increase of $24.4 million.

Allum repeatedly insisted he's given school boards the money to provide the best-quality education, and he'll work with them to concentrate existing resources in the classroom without raising property taxes.

The first place to look, he said, is administration costs.

Manitoba School Boards Association president Floyd Martens was skeptical.

'It's a well-financed system. I do believe there are sufficient resources within the existing system to fund what we want to see happen. What we're suggesting is they do have sufficient resources' -- Education Minister James Allum

"At this point, I don't know what the full impact is going to be. To look at no tax increase for all school divisions, that would be hard to achieve," said Martens, from Dauphin-based Mountain View School Division.

It's especially tough when 18 of the 37 school divisions will get zero increase under the provincial funding formula, Martens said.

Thursday's increase maintains the NDP's record of increasing its share of public funding by at least the rate of provincial growth.

Allum said the new money will be poured into improving basic math, reading and science skills, and boosting high school skills training and career development.

"There will be a fund -- more (details) to come in the future," he said, noting the fund will come from the $24.4 million. "We really want to drive the quality agenda -- to focus on career development, focus on skills-training. That's what we want the school divisions to focus on," said Allum.

Allum's funding announcement was probably the tersest since the NDP took office in 1999 -- few details, a lack of specific new programs and concentrated new money rather than a long list of projects.

Allum said in an interview there will again be a zero guarantee this year -- no division will receive less money than a year ago, but 18 of the 37 will not receive a penny more than last year.

"It's 18, and four out of six in Winnipeg," he said. Allum said Winnipeg and Seven Oaks school divisions will get more money.

The province has capped administration costs for close to a decade at four per cent urban, 4.5 per cent rural, and five per cent in the north, but those were guidelines he's now made law, Allum said.

"This is just a first step in those administration caps. We'll review them every year," he warned.

The minister said some divisions are spending beyond the maximum on administration, but could not immediately provide a list or say how much money they're overspending -- money he wants to see in the classroom.

Among the things Allum will not do: He won't cap or freeze property tax increases, he won't impose amalgamation of school divisions, he won't change the provincial moratorium on closing schools without community consensus, he won't get involved in teacher contract bargaining and won't tell school boards how many teachers they should employ or how much they should pay their teachers.

"It's a well-financed system" was Allum's mantra Thursday. "I do believe there are sufficient resources within the existing system to fund what we want to see happen. What we're suggesting is they do have sufficient resources."

Allum said divisions can form partnerships to share resources. "In every partnership, you're achieving economies of scale," he said.

Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson cautioned he wouldn't want to see partnerships involve businesses looking to make a profit out of public education.

He was happy the province found even two per cent. "Given the economic context, something standard is commendable," Olson said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

What do you think of James Allum’s challenge to school trustees? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2014 A3

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Updated on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 6:47 AM CST: Replaces photo, adds question for discussion

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