The River East Transcona School Division passed its annual budget during its board meeting on March 5.
The $170-million budget is an increase from the $166-million approved for the 2012-13 year, and translates to a 2.3% boost in spending, the bulk of which is dedicated to payroll to meet collective agreement requirements. The jump affects taxpayers with a 2.5% tax hike, valued at $35 for a home valued at $220,000.
RETSD board chairman Robert Fraser said there are several steps in the process of creating a budget with which the board was comfortable.
"We on the board sit several nights – we see if there’s an area that we as a board, on the recommendation of administration, need to look at either enhancing or taking out of the budget," said Fraser. "We do that first with the preliminary, and once (after) the province gives the amount of funding they’re going to give us. We have to decide what’s going to come out of the budget, if there’s anything that can come out, or add to, if that’s necessary."
Fraser explained the preliminary budget was affected slightly when it was announced Manitoba Education would not give the board any additional money, but noted no major changes were necessary.
"We had to wait for them. Once they told us, then we could move ahead," said Fraser. "They promised we wouldn’t get anything less (than last year), so we went on that assumption. Unfortunately, (we) were expecting to get something extra, and unfortunately, we didn’t get anything."
The school division did receive cash to help transition into the provincial government’s 20K3 initiative, which mandates that all but 10 percent of kindergarten to Grade 3 classes must have 20 or fewer students by 2017. The money will allow the division to hire seven new teachers.
Ward 4 trustee Wayne Ritcher voted against the budget, noting those who own more expensive homes would be dinged with a tax increase greater than $35. He suggested the division should review what it offers to ensure better efficiency.
"I felt we could still have brought it down a bit more," he said. "We should be doing, at the very least, an analysis of our programs to see how effective they still are – not with the view of removing them or reducing them, but simply to find out how effective they still are."
Ritcher also called upon the provincial government to boost funding for education, as it used to cover 80% of division expenditures, a number that has since dropped to approximately 55%, he said.
The division has over 16,000 students in kindergarten through Grade 12, while it employs over 2,000 staff members.