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Why school taxes are going up, chapter three

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Sixteen school divisions across Manitoba are not receiving a single penny more in provincial operating grants than they did a year ago.

In fact, it could have been even worse — they collectively would have lost $29 million in funding under the formula had the province not guaranteed that zero is the lowest possible increase. On a house assessed at a value of $200,000, using the average provincewide mill rate last year, that would have been an additional $50.01 in school taxes to make up that lost money.

In a public education system which last year spent $2.026 billion, in which overall costs rose 3.29 per cent a year ago, in which teachers across Manitoba have a two per cent wage increase this year plus increments for teachers with less than 10 years’ experience, even with the province’s demanding smaller class sizes — even with all that, more than two of every five divisions do not qualify for a single penny more of public support from the province.

How or why a division would qualify for less money, is anyone’s guess, since the province isn’t elaborating on individual divisions. The official enrolment count taken Sept. 30 still isn’t public, but overall enrolment is apparently down a tiny bit, with a majority of divisions losing kids and overall it’s not offset this time — enrolment rose the last two years after 16 years of decline — by the handful of divisions enjoying massive immigration-fuelled growth.

When you get zero on the province’s share of funding the system, the only other source is education property taxes, unless, of course, you slash jobs, programs, and services.

As if.

Given the roughly 60-40 split, zero means that property taxes on a status quo budget could go up seven or eight per cent.

Now, some of those divisions may qualify for a share of the $33 million in equalization that the province is also ponying up for divisions with declining enrolment and/or low assessment bases.

So, getting zero in new grants may not necessarily mean an eight per cent higher hit in taxes, but it’s pretty unlikely a division would get enough in equalization to avoid any tax increase at all. And a division may get zero in both grants and equalization.

Of course, it would be easier to tell what was happening if the province told us how it divvied up that $33 million and among how many divisions.

Alas.

But back to today’s salient point: Who are those 16 divisions?

All will be revealed, says Education Minister Nancy Allan’s office, in the Financial Reporting and Accounting in Manitoba Education (FRAME) report.

Oh, OK.

But don’t school boards have to pass their budgets by March 15, and isn’t the FRAME report not published until next October?

I guess that’s what passes for transparency on Broadway these days.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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