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More staff means higher property taxes

Increased levels cited in boosts across province

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A spokesman says the province is shouldering all the cost of capping classroom sizes in kindergarten to Grade 3 classes.

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JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES A spokesman says the province is shouldering all the cost of capping classroom sizes in kindergarten to Grade 3 classes.

Another school year, another inexorable jolt on your property-tax bill.

School property taxes jumped an average 4.1 per cent this year, provincial documents released this week show -- trustees across Manitoba raised school taxes by an average $56.46 on a typical $200,000 home.

Even though there was only a miniscule increase in overall enrolment, and even though teachers throughout Manitoba had only a two per cent salary increase, a 3.5 per cent increase in spending on all salaries shows there were a lot more people on the payroll.

So many, in fact, new salaries and salary increases alone make up three-quarters of the new spending across the province.

The information can be found in the FRAME report (Financial Reporting and Accounting in Manitoba Education), at http://wfp.to/framereport.

New Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum said this week he wants quality in classrooms and an affordable education -- but declined to say if he finds the current property-tax increases acceptable.

The FRAME report shows there are 247 more people working full time in public education in all job categories this year, 167 of them teachers. There are an additional 69 technical specialists and 12 more clinicians in the system.

An aide to Allum said the province is covering all costs of the 70 teachers hired to implement capping kindergarten to Grade 3 classrooms at 20 kids by 2017.

Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson said Friday the union's internal numbers show fewer teachers hired than the province has calculated, but more non-teachers on the payroll.

Regardless, there are close to one per cent more people working in a public school system in which enrolment went up 0.2 per cent.

The rest of the new money that drove up taxes lies almost exclusively in employee benefits, up 4.6 per cent, supplies and materials 4.8 per cent, and special needs.

Allum's aide said placing more special-needs students in regular classes added $5.6 million to instructional costs.

Olson did note the increments paid to young teachers aren't driving up taxes -- money paid out in increments is less than the money saved through retirements of teachers at the top of the pay scale.

And he said people shouldn't be worried by school taxes rising by barely $1 a week. "This is a system designed to require local taxation" to maintain the quality of education, Olson said.

Executive director Carolyn Duhamel said the Manitoba School Boards Association is still analyzing the data.

But Duhamel said the shift in teaching special-needs students requires higher-paid staff: "As for special needs, the change may reflect two trends that we are seeing -- a push toward more inclusive placements in regular classrooms for special-needs students and a reallocation of dollars from EA (education assistant) hires to increased numbers of certified teachers with smaller classroom groupings.

"Again, I haven't got numbers for these changes but certainly we are hearing about them anecdotally in our conversations with trustees and superintendents," Duhamel said.

The provincial funding formula for public schools is complex, convoluted, confusing, and confounding. While many people complain about school property taxes, the determining factor of how much you pay and the quality of education your kids get is the assessed value of property within your division.

If you have IKEA, Sage Creek homes, or the oilpatch creating growth in your division, that's more taxpayers to share the homeowner's burden, and more money trustees are able to spend on kids.

The highest school taxes in Manitoba are in the Kelsey School Division in The Pas, which has the lowest assessment per student in the province -- barely half the provincial average.

The lowest taxes are in Gimli-based Evergreen, which has almost double the provincial average of assessment per student.

How could school property taxes jump this year when then-education minister Nancy Allan gave the school divisions $27.2 million, a 2.3 per cent increase? That increase was on the province's share of funding the $2.1-billion public education system.

Spending on the entire system went up $71.7 million, or 3.6 per cent -- the rest comes from property taxes, or cuts to jobs, programs, and services.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2013 A13

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