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This article was published 5/3/2019 (574 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba’s education minister is threatening further cost-cutting measures for school divisions that don’t abide by the province’s suggested two per cent cap on property tax increases this year.
Kelvin Goertzen told reporters at a pre-budget event Tuesday any divisions who go over the property tax decree will be subject to extra administration cost cutbacks, which the province can legally authorize.
He confirmed later by email the province would change the Administrative Cost Control Regulation effective July 1 to allow for such a move, which would affect 2019/20 school year budgets.
Goertzen said the province is only aware of one board – the Winnipeg School Division (WSD) – that's considering going over the suggested two per cent property tax limit.
WSD has said it's considering a 2.9 per cent hike, to cover additional education program costs.
"If they aren’t able to do that (two per cent limit), then certainly we will assist them in that," Goertzen told reporters.
Lisa Naylor, chair of Winnipeg School Division’s financial and personnel committee, said her board was notified Friday they are expected to cut administration costs by 2.7 per cent. Last year, the province issued a similar directive, but asked for a three per cent reduction.
Any division that goes above the suggested two per cent property tax increase will be subject to an additional 20 per cent slash in administration costs, the province told WSD. That would amount to at least $1 million lost, Naylor said, which WSD sees as unfeasible.
On Monday, WSD will vote on its budget. Naylor said they already trimmed administration costs to the bone over the last several years and can’t afford to cut further.
"What the minister has done is waited until zero hour, after we’ve completed all of the due diligence that we should be doing as a school division, and has really taken away our ability to pass a budget with the input of community," Naylor said, noting WSD organized five community consultations and solicited feedback online.
"What my projection is, is that we’re not going to be able to add anything into this year’s budget. The minister has put us in a position to basically follow his directives and not listen to our community," she said.
"The punishment that he has now threatened in terms of taking money away in a different area makes it impossible for us to move forward."
Naylor said WSD had planned to hire a new autism clinical psychologist, provide more day programs for students with disabilities and more staff to cater to early childhood needs – extras that may now be put on hold.
Goertzen said he has been meeting with school divisions during the legislative session break, but has not yet met with members of WSD – although he has been having extended conversations with trustees over Twitter.
"I believe in open and democratic dialogue and if trustees want to debate with me on Twitter, I guess that’s one way to do it. It’s not my preferred form of communication," Goertzen said, adding he doesn’t regret any of his tweets.
The minister said certain divisions are being "diligent and working hard and looking for savings," while others "aren’t as motivated to do so, I guess, (and) are going back to their taxpayers for more."
Naylor took issue with his assertions and said the WSD board has formally requested to meet with Goertzen five times since he took over the education portfolio in August. They haven't met.
"We take this role very seriously, but the minister paints us as reckless and uninterested in trying to cut costs," Naylor said. "What we’re really interested in is a healthy, thriving public education system and I’m concerned that the minister hasn’t given that much thought."
NDP education critic Matt Wiebe said the province has left school divisions like WSD "between a rock and a hard place."
"It’s incumbent on the minister to stop the Twitter war, sit down with trustees – with other elected officials in this case – to start hashing some of these things out," Wiebe said.
"Start coming up with solutions, not just trying to score political points. If we’re really trying to ensure that students have the best outcomes in our schools, then the first place that we should be starting is sitting down at the table and talking about the programs and the ways we can best enhance those outcomes, not responding to one another on Twitter or through the media – no offence."
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