ALL those annual predictions of doom and gloom in the Winnipeg School Division could finally be about to come true.
The province's largest division is facing property-tax increases up to eight per cent just to maintain the status quo, said school board vice-chairman Mark Wasyliw -- and parents are demanding costly improvements that go way, way beyond the status quo.
The word is out since a recent invitation-only meeting for parents councils, trustees, and MLAs that was closed to the general public and media.
"We have to raise taxes, or cut programs, which means job losses," Wasyliw said.
"We're anticipating another three per cent increase" in overall spending just to maintain what the WSD already has, he said.
Last year, provincial funding support was virtually frozen for the WSD, and staff are warning it could be the same this year, Wasyliw said.
"A freeze is as good as a cut," he said.
Given how the province and the division share that overall three per cent increase -- about $11 million -- if the WSD has to carry the load alone, "It's a seven or eight per cent tax increase," said Wasyliw.
That's $112 on a house assessed at a value of $200,000.
But, said Wasyliw, "A lot of our parents want us to improve math. The division has put together a strategy to enhance learning in math."
That carries a price tag, but it's not the heftiest potential addition.
"Our parents want us to put in full-day kindergarten -- we'd need at least $6 million," he said.
Finance chairwoman and budget chief trustee Cathy Collins declined to discuss the budget Tuesday.
"I'm not confirming or denying anything. We will be examining everything in January," she said.
Collins said the WSD will hold its usual public forum on the budget at the end of February, about two weeks before the March 15 deadline for boards to set budgets.
Wasyliw said parents are often surprised to learn WSD pays the entire cost of nursery, as well as breakfast and milk programs for many schools in low-income neighbourhoods. The division pumps in $20 million from property taxes to go above and beyond provincial support for special-needs programs.
The division is undergoing huge growth, especially in its northwest, but with that growth last year, "we only hired 25 teachers to cover off 1,000 (additional students)," Wasyliw said. There is no way to maintain adequate student/teacher ratios without significantly increased hiring.
"We need to find new money, and it's not going to come from the province," Wasyliw declared.
There may be major growth downtown, he said, but that's in economic-development zones where property taxes are deferred as an incentive to build: "We're not going to see any new revenue for 20 years."
Wasyliw and division officials said the WSD does not know how much school property tax it will get from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, or when.
"We don't have an expenditure problem, we have a revenue problem. We need a growth tax -- when the economy expands, we get more money."
But Wasyliw argued the board must be out in the public, engaging residents in policy issues. "I see a shift, that parents are far more political now," he said.