School education tax increases are certainly back with a vengeance -- schools boards have jacked up the money collected through property taxes by 5.1 per cent this year.
And that's despite spending per student having gone up only 2.8 per cent in the 2012-13 school year.
So how can that be possible?
Welcome to the confusing, convoluted and complicated complexities of funding Manitoba's $2.026-billion public education system.
The annual FRAME (Financial Accounting and Reporting in Manitoba Education) is just out.
Overall, spending increased 3.29 per cent, or $64.6 million, over the year before.
That's $10.3 million below the increase of the 2011-12 school year, possibly a reflection of teachers settling for a two per cent wage increase instead of the three per cent plus some cash bonuses, which had been the norm for the previous decade.
Continuing a trend in the past few years, spending on special-education students and programs gobbles up most of the increases, from 4.1 per cent to 4.7 per cent in several categories.
So why the tax increase, which works out to $33.74 more in school property taxes for a $100,000 home, based on the average provincial mill rate of 14.7 mills?
Education Minister Nancy Allan added $25.5 million, or 2.2 per cent, to the provincial grants this year. But that's 2.2 per cent just on the province's share of the overall $2-billion budget, which shrinks its impact considerably -- and leaves it up to school boards to cover the rest of the system's higher costs through taxes or cuts.
The biggest single change this year is that Allan dropped the tax-incentive grant (TIG), which for several years had been offered to school divisions that took additional grant money in exchange for promising not to increase taxes. In 2011-12, only four of 37 divisions turned down the grant and chose to raise taxes instead.
Last year, the grant would have covered the difference between $25.5 million and $64.6 million. This year, property taxes cover the difference.
Which brings us to a part of FRAME that may be understandable only to accountants, but which surely inflames both trustees and the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
The province says it funds 65.4 per cent of the cost of operating the public school system.
Does it? Yes. No. Maybe.
If we all turn to page 42 in FRAME, you'll find two columns under tables galore of provincial funding of schools. One column lists $192.7 million of provincial funding for the education property tax credit. Not a penny of that money goes into public education. It's a tax credit that comes directly off the bottom of our property-tax bills, a credit the province magically transformed in 2005-06 into education funding.
And next to that table is $61.4 million for last year's tax-incentive grant, which became part of each accepting division's base grants. The province argues money should be deducted from the amount of money school divisions collect through property taxes this year.
If you don't include those two figures, and instead look at how much trustees levy through education taxes this year, school divisions are covering 41.1 per cent of the cost of public education.
Even without adding in other sources of revenue -- transfers of federal funding for First Nations kids attending public schools is the biggie -- it's obvious 65.4 and 41.1 adding up to 100 doesn't compute.