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Status quo budget for St. James schools

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The St. James-Assiniboia School Division will have to resort to program cuts if it continues to see no provincial funding increases, board officials say.


The division unveiled its draft $97.6-million budget for the 2013-14 school year on Feb. 27, a 3.53% increase from last year.


Despite the province announcing a $27-million increase in education funding earlier this year, SJSD won’t receive a cent of that pie, board chair Bruce Chegus said. It’s the second straight year the division has received no increase from the province, Chegus said.


"If we continue to see zero increases on the funding, we will have to, on a go-forward basis, look at program cuts, I think that’s clear," Chegus said in an interview last week.
"We were able to avoid that issue this year, but going forward we will have to put that on the table for discussion."


The River East Transcona and Louis Riel school divisions also saw no increases in funding.
Overall, homeowners in St. James and Headingley with a home valued around $218,000 can expect to pay about $64 more in education taxes this year, after a 5% bump in the local mill rate.


However, that increase only reflects the cost of maintaining the status quo, as the division only saw a minute increase in the portioned assessment of homes in the area, Chegus said.


"When you put the two together, it’s making it quite challenging from a financial perspective," he said.


Chegus said the board continues to lobby local MLAs to restore the "equilibrium" in education funding, which was traditionally 80% from the province and 20% from the division. However, provincial contributions have slowly eroded to 58% of overall expenditures, Chegus said.


"The main problem, from our end, is we’re using the special levy, which is the local taxpayer, to fund our operating costs, which is not at all what the intention of what the levy was designed for," he explained.

"It was supposed to give the ability to provide add-on programs that were special for the area, but we’re no longer doing that. We’re putting more onus on the (local) taxpayer to deal with our day-to-day costs."


Salaries still account for the lion’s share of the budget at 82%.


Meanwhile, the division is forecasting to drop below 8,000 students by 2017 — down from 21,000 since the early 1970s.


"The decline has been happening since that point," Chegus said.
"This is the lowest that anybody can recall."


That doesn’t necessarily translate into a cost reduction, as students may be dispersed among various grades and schools, Chegus said.


To view the budget, visit www.sjsd.net.

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