Parent council urges school board to hire full-time fundraiser
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Manitoba’s largest school board is being urged to hire a full-time fundraiser to collect private donations in response to shortfalls in public funding and related program cuts.
During a regular board meeting Monday, two parents from different communities in the Winnipeg School Division gave separate presentations on their respective concerns about budget constraints.
Laurie Kozak spoke about the key role schools play as both educational institutions and safe shelters, where learners access nutrition, guidance and other resources that are at risk due to limited operating dollars.
“The deficit will not be solved by bake sales and the government is not increasing their support, and they won’t meet all our needs. WSD must think outside the box to make up the difference,” said Kozak, co-chairwoman of the parent advisory council at St. John’s High School and a former director of development at an inner-city youth organization.
The North End mother suggested the board of trustees contract a professional fundraiser to oversee a volunteer fundraising committee and build relationships with possible donors.
“I think lots of (alumni) want to give back. They just need to be asked and it doesn’t have to be a large, major gift. There’s people who just want to give $100 or $20, and those things all add up,” said the resident in Ward 8, who finished second in the tight race to represent her neighbourhood during the recent school board race.
An experienced fundraiser could support principals and parent councils with local efforts to secure new income sources while assisting with the creation of a WSD handbook on collecting and accepting money, Kozak added.
The Education Department has repeatedly touted its funding commitment to school divisions in 2022-23 — with base funding totalling $20.2 million — as the largest of its kind in history.
Critics call the Tories’ annual announcements de facto cuts overall because total operating grants have failed to keep up with inflation in recent years.
Some divisions have received decreases to their base lump sum, owing to a dip in enrolment. Baseline funding for WSD decreased by 1.3 per cent.
The board found savings by ending full-day kindergarten at 11 schools last year. One year prior, trustees’ cost-cutting measures included reducing individual school budgets, downsizing year-round clerical positions and ending occupational therapy and physiotherapy services, a milk subsidy and the police-in-schools program.
The Schroeder Foundation, run by philanthropists who are WSD alumni, stepped in to cover the milk subsidy in March 2021. Business magnate Walter Schroeder offered to pay to bring back the school resource officer initiative.
People for Public Education, a grassroots group of educators, parents and community members across Manitoba, takes issue with the prospect of any public school division using or increasing its reliance on fundraising.
“We could be justifying or legitimizing the government not fully funding public education. What some people say is: ‘the government can pay for the basics and parents can pay the difference,’ but how do we define basics?” said Shannon Moore, an assistant professor of education at the University of Manitoba and founding member of the group.
Moore called charity “a transaction” that hinges upon a donor’s demands and thus, allows for private control in public institutions.
“There may be good people that just want to give back (with no strings attached), but there is no equity when we have to rely on good people to give back,” the academic said, adding fundraising exacerbates inequities because of the barriers to entry to volunteering.
Neither WSD’s board chairwoman nor the division’s official spokesperson could be reached for comment Tuesday.
With the 2023-24 budget season on the horizon, Kozak stressed the importance of being proactive rather than reactive. She recommended trustees seek support from foundations, endowment funds and individual donors this year.
Manitoba Education was expected to unveil a new formula for public school funding in early 2023, but the education minister announced last week that the team tasked with drawing up a modern blueprint needs more time.
A new equation that determines how much money every district receives will be under review until at least 2024 and it will have to take into account the planned phasing out of the education property tax.
“When this is said and done, you’re going to look at probably about 98 per cent (of funding for public education coming straight from the province),” said Education Minister Wayne Ewasko, during a phone call on Friday.
“The other two per cent will be like the little things, as far as fundraising and different things or different grants from other sources.”
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
Updated on Wednesday, December 21, 2022 9:16 AM CST: Changes headline
Updated on Wednesday, December 21, 2022 11:12 AM CST: Adds two paragraphs re: provincial funding formula