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This article was published 15/2/2019 (182 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Sparks were flying between Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen and the Winnipeg School Division Friday in the aftermath of news the division may ignore the province’s directive to hold the line on property taxes.
Goertzen took aim at the WSD in a written statement sent to the Free Press, calling out the number of school division employees pulling in six figure salaries, while hinting Manitoba divisions could be amalgamated if the province's cap on special requirement increases isn't observed.
"I understand that some administrative staff salaries at the Winnipeg School Division are higher than any elected official in Manitoba, and 197 staff at the division make $100,000 or more (per year). I have no doubt, if there is a desire, efficiencies can be found," Goertzen said.
Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen also took aim at the Winnipeg Schood division in a series of tweets Friday afternoon that mirrored his statement to the Winnipeg Free Press.
I appreciate that the Winnipeg School Division is working hard on their draft budget to keep tax increases to 2% or less while protecting front line services. This is important but not easy work. #MBPoli 1/— Kelvin Goertzen (@kelvin_goertzen) February 15, 2019
Of course, in protecting students and taxpayers we would expect that the Winnipeg School Division trustees would look at the top first. In that regard, it is helpful to note that 197 staff at WSD make more than $100,000 annually. #MBPoli 2/— Kelvin Goertzen (@kelvin_goertzen) February 15, 2019
Of those making more than $100,000 at the Winnipeg School Division, 5 are superintendents, 11 are consultants, 8 are directors. One Superintendent makes more annually than the Mayor of Winnipeg or the Premier of the province. #MBPoli 3/— Kelvin Goertzen (@kelvin_goertzen) February 15, 2019
I’m sure that the WSD trustees will continue to work hard on their budget looking for efficiencies. The province will soon be issuing administrative spending reductions for divisions. The result of the budgeting will be instructive to that and to the K-12 review. #MBPoli /4— Kelvin Goertzen (@kelvin_goertzen) February 15, 2019
On Thursday, WSD finance chair Lisa Naylor said they were considering a special requirement increase of three per cent (above the provincial cap of two per cent) for the 2019-20 school year. That would drive up property taxes on homes that fall within the division boundary by 2.9 per cent – or $41 on the average assessed home.
But in his statement Friday, Goertzen seemed to suggest the province would move to claw back any funds brought in over the provincial cap.
"The province will await the final budget and then determine an appropriate administrative spending cap for (the) Winnipeg School Division in an effort to support taxpayers. In addition, this discussion is helpful as the kindergarten to grade 12 education system review considers issues regarding the future of school divisions," Goertzen said.
WSD chair Chris Broughton fired back by calling the minister’s statement "grossly inappropriate," "disappointing" and "uncalled for."
He said the division has tried to set up meetings numerous times with the Goertzen only to be given the "cold shoulder."
"Our administrative costs are one of the lowest, if not the lowest, in the province. The reality is there’s no waste in our administration. We’re extremely lean. He wants to hurt frontline workers and make deep cuts to the education that our students receive," Broughton said.
"It’s a direct threat and it’s grossly inappropriate behaviour for a minister. After getting a cold shoulder from this government, now we’re getting a threat of extinction."
Broughton also expressed frustration that Goertzen appears to be using the current education system review – announced by the province in January – as a cudgel to browbeat and threaten the school division.
"A review which was previously going to be looking at improving education seems simply to be a tool to reduce school divisions and dole out punishments to school divisions that don’t follow the philosophies of the government," Broughton said.
"The minister would have us believe the review is focused on improving the education system, but now the truth is coming out. This review has no intention of improving the education system, it’s a mechanism to amalgamate school divisions, or eliminate them entirely."
In January, the province announced funding for elementary and secondary education would rise by $6.6 million for the 2019-20 school year, the same increase as the year before.
It also again delivered a directive to school divisions to hold the line on special requirement increases – which result in property tax hikes – at two per cent.
The Winnipeg School Division is the only Winnipeg-based school division which has signalled its intention to ignore the province’s cap.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Sunday, February 17, 2019 at 10:49 AM CST: fixes typo