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Seven Oaks promises more bang for buck

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A steady increase in student enrolment is defining the way the Seven Oaks School Division spends its money in the coming school year.

The division made a presentation on its 2013-14 budget on Feb. 25 at Garden City Collegiate. Speaking to an audience comprised mainly of administrators, faculty and trustees, superintendent Brian O’Leary ran through the highlights of this year’s budget.

Residents in the division’s catchment area will see an increase of 3.8%. That amounts to about $47 per year, based on a home assessed at $233,000. At 16.2 mills in 2012, the division has the highest mill rate in the city.

The extra tax dollars will go to cover a nearly 4% bump in expenditures this year, much of which will go toward managing the division’s ever-increasing student population.

"As a school division we’re growing, we’re the only growing school division in Winnipeg," O’Leary said.

Student enrolment climbed to over 10,000 this past year, up from 8,800 in 2004. To deal with the influx, the school is planning to build two new schools, one in Amber Trails and one in Riverbend, as well as bring on yet more portable classrooms. The division will be making use of 47 portables next year.

"Though we’re planning for growth, we’re still very crowded," O’Leary said.

The division also intends to bring on four new teaching positions, several education assistants, and a new administrative position for just over half a school year. That job will be to prepare for the opening of the new Amber Trails School in 2014.

Though staff costs make up much of the division’s budget for the year — 55.8% to faculty and 26% to support staff — the division will be able to expand some of its programming. Expanding on an offer made in Grade 6, Grade 7 students in the division will have band instruments provided to them at no charge. In the senior years, O’Leary said they plan to offer more programming geared to skilled trades, such as plumbing.

"We want to add more trades programming. There’s jobs out there, and they’re good paying jobs," O’Leary said, adding early childhood education programming is also being considered.
In addition, Seven Oaks will offer reduced fees for summer school, and will expand its Balance Experimental Education Group program, designed to promote literacy and numeracy.

The division, he said, will continue to try to keep class sizes manageable. Class sizes sit at about 19 between kindergarten and Grade 3 and steadily increase from there.

Last year, the division spent $10,482 per student, nearly $1,000 lower than the provincial average. Listing a multitude of divisional programming, including its learn-to-skate, learn-to-swim program, Wayfinders and others, he said the division makes good use of the resources it has.

"We’re lean, we’re efficient and I think we provide more value," he said.
He lamented that Seven Oaks has a small commercial tax base, which contributes to the need for residential education tax increases.

"Pembina Trails got IKEA, we got a new Dollarama location," he said to the laughter of the crowd.

Division board chair Ed Ploszay spoke following O’Leary’s presentation, reiterating the point that the division is doing its best to make use of its funding.

"It’s a continuous fight, but we have good leadership," he said.

"We will continue to push the province for more equity in funding... Education is very important, it’s something that’s an investment in the future."

As time goes on and financial pressures increase, O’Leary said the board often has to make difficult choices as to what to offer.

"We’ve always got enough for most of what we’d like to do, but not enough for everything we’d like to do," he said.

Following his presentation, O’Leary said the division can expect to deal with a continued influx of students for years to come.

"As long as we get continued immigration to Manitoba, we’ll get continued (increases)," he said.

West St. Paul resident Lorne Topolniski, who attended the presentation, said he overall felt satisfied with the budget.

"Seven Oaks is doing a good job, I think, with the tax base they have," he said.
"It’s not all doom and gloom that taxes are going up."

The budget will be discussed at two more board meetings before it comes to a vote on March 11.

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