December 9, 2018

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Winnipeg School Division board tests waters on property tax limit

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>School trustees, from left, Mark Wasyliw, Yijie Chen, Lisa Naylor and Chris Broughton at a Winnipeg School Board meeting in November. The Winnipeg School Division is polling ratepayers to see how they feel about raising property taxes more than the two per cent limit suggested by the province.</p></p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

School trustees, from left, Mark Wasyliw, Yijie Chen, Lisa Naylor and Chris Broughton at a Winnipeg School Board meeting in November. The Winnipeg School Division is polling ratepayers to see how they feel about raising property taxes more than the two per cent limit suggested by the province.

JUST six weeks into the job, the recently elected board of the Winnipeg School Division has pushed for reducing the voting age to 16 and allowing non-citizens to vote in school board elections.

Now, it’s testing the waters to see how voters and ratepayers feel about raising property taxes more than the two per cent limit suggested by the province.

The WSD has added a three-question survey as part of its 2019-20 budget consultation process. It asks respondents if they’re OK with a property tax increase above two per cent, if it means there won’t be program cuts.

“We want to know from the parents and ratepayers what their values are, and what they want to see us do,” board chairman Chris Broughton said Thursday.

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JUST six weeks into the job, the recently elected board of the Winnipeg School Division has pushed for reducing the voting age to 16 and allowing non-citizens to vote in school board elections.

Now, it’s testing the waters to see how voters and ratepayers feel about raising property taxes more than the two per cent limit suggested by the province.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Chris Broughton, Winnipeg School Board chairman: “We want to know from the parents and ratepayers what their values are, and what they want to see us do.”</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Chris Broughton, Winnipeg School Board chairman: “We want to know from the parents and ratepayers what their values are, and what they want to see us do.”

The WSD has added a three-question survey as part of its 2019-20 budget consultation process. It asks respondents if they’re OK with a property tax increase above two per cent, if it means there won’t be program cuts.

"We want to know from the parents and ratepayers what their values are, and what they want to see us do," board chairman Chris Broughton said Thursday.

"We’ve been elected to represent them, and the provincial government is imposing this position that they don’t want us to go above that percentage."

A spokeswoman for the Education and Training Minister Kelvin Goertzen pointed to a February 2018 news release, indicating Goertzen (who took over the portfolio Aug. 1) plans to follow the course set by former minister Ian Wishart.

Wishart said at the time Manitoba was maintaining "a balanced approach to providing students a quality education while creating efficiency and controlling costs within the public education system."

"(Goertzen) says we are planning a similar approach next year, where we expect school divisions to manage their expenditures responsibly when they create their budgets, and make decisions that best suit students’ needs and consider the impact on taxpayers," spokeswoman Andrea Slobodian said in an email.

Last year, Manitoba’s public school population grew 0.9 per cent, with Premier Brian Pallister’s government providing the smallest funding increase since the 1990s and capping spending.

Broughton said he’s expecting another challenging year in 2019-20.

"It’s going to be a tough budget, given the political climate we’re in with austerity and the need to find savings in an education system that’s been chronically underfunded and forced to make cuts for many years," the WSD board chairman said.

"When we are facing challenges and barriers to education and high levels of child poverty, having the education system underfunded to the degree that it is is a challenge.

In the Winnipeg School Division — comprised of 78 schools, 33,000 students and 6,000 employees — trustees are getting out to talk to the people in their wards. They’re presenting the pre-budget survey to district advisory committees, which include representatives from schools and parent councils, and student advisory committees, said Ward 6 trustee Yijie (Jennifer) Chen.

"I have heard form many schools and parents about the importance of maintaining and enhancing programs, so we need to ensure we don’t cut these programs," said the first-year trustee. Cutting school programs and supports to stick to a two per cent property tax limit will end up hurting local ratepayers and Manitoba taxpayers, as well as students, she said.

"My ward has many low-income and newcomer families who rely on these supports, and limiting them will negatively impact our whole community," said Chen.

"As school trustees, we have the responsibility to ensure any taxes levied for our schools are spent efficiently and responsibly. Having said that, arbitrarily capping school property tax revenue at two per cent limits our ability to support the programs our children need."

The province, meanwhile, is embarking on a review of K-12 education in Manitoba.

"We will invite public input on topics such as school funding and taxation as part of our K-12 review in 2019," Slobodian said in an email. "We continue to provide significant funding to give students the best education possible."

Broughton worries by the time the review is finished, it will be too late to save programs and supports from the chopping block.

"I’m hopeful that the provincial government will see a need to invest in K-12, but I think it will take the K-12 review for them to see the challenges education is facing in Manitoba," he said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

Read full biography

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