The pre-budget speculation about school taxes has begun, with the Winnipeg School Division expecting it will need at least three per cent more money to deliver the same services.
WSD vice-chairman Mike Wasyliw says the board, in fact, is being asked to expand programs, including all-day kindergarten. Further, he noted that improving math instruction will also run up the price tag for instruction.
The province has demanded high school "essential math" courses be changed to boost instruction in basic mathematics through to Grade 12, but there is no reason why adjusting course material to improve instruction should cost substantially more money.
The cost of expanding kindergarten, now borne by school board-levied property taxes, from half- to full-day may be too rich in the current economy -- Mr. Wasyliw's forecast of steep tax hikes is predicated on a suspicion that the provincial government, wrestling with rising deficits, will not be generous in its grants to school divisions in 2013.
The provincial government covers only about half of the cost of running schools, even though it dictates programs and curriculum; the rest is raised from property owners by the boards' own levies. This makes it difficult for taxpayers to know who to hold to account for the steeply rising cost of education despite the fact the trend shows many fewer students are in the classrooms.
In media interviews Wednesday, Mr. Wasyliw opened a more productive avenue for resolving the annual budgeting and funding shell game. He suggested the cost of education be taken off residential property owners (the province scrapped its own levy years ago).
The trustee's suggestion, made to the CBC, that there be a one per cent increase to the retail sales tax is unlikely to get much purchase from the province, which has turned down similar requests for other purposes.
The principle, however, that education should not be funded on the backs of property owners is sound -- in parts of the city education levies outstrip municipal taxes on property.
Winnipeggers would undoubtedly rally around Mr. Wasyliw were he to propose the idea of the provincial government assuming 100 per cent responsibility for education funding. That proposal has real currency.