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It was draft budget discussion time at the board offices of Louis Riel School Division on Feb. 11.
More than 130 individuals attended a public meeting that night, when LRSD’s board announced there will be a 0.9 per cent decrease in provincial funding compared to the previous year’s budget in light of the provincial government’s recent announcement regarding school funding.
In a news release, the board’s finance and audit committee chair Pamela Kolochuk said the decrease in funding from the province is "not keeping up with cost of living or enrolment that is projected to increase by 216 students to reach 16,004 in 2020-2021."
She said now in its fourth year of funding restraints, the board faces some "very difficult decisions to achieve a balanced budget."
To help reduce the impact of the funding reduction, the board is considering a two per cent increase to the special requirement, in line with the Minister of Education’s request to limit the increase to two per cent. This would mean a 1.12 per cent increase — or a $22.56 increase — to the taxpayer with an average home valued at $343,700 in the division.
The board is proposing a budget of $196,265,953 for the 2020-2021 school year.
Sandy Nemeth, the division’s board chair, said the board and senior management team are committed to doing everything possible to protect its core investments, which means no increases in overall class sizes or reductions in the number of teachers and educational assistants.
"We are mindful of protecting programs and services that lead to student engagement and success," Nemeth told The Lance recently, noting the division continues to grow each year.
"Our French immersion program still continues to attract families, which is exciting, and there’s a mixture of optimism and opportunity. At the same time, there’s a limited amount of dollars to allocate, and it’s our responsibility to listen to what the community is telling us they want. It’s a balancing act, and the really hard part is if you want to grow a certain area, the dollars might have to come from somewhere else."
Nemeth said to help protect front-line services, such as teachers and educational assistants, LRSD will be looking at a number of cost-saving measures, including further reductions to staffing furthest from the classroom, operating expenses and repairs to facilities. The board also continues to seek clarification from the government on its directive to reduce core management by 15 per cent.
Christian Michalik, the division’s superintendent, said despite funding not keeping up with the cost of living and projected enrolment increases, the priority remains to protect student learning and wellness.
"We’re going to find a way to protect what’s most important, which is teachers and EAs working with students in the classroom," Michalik said. "Also, we want to ensure our project investments remain equitable and inclusive in our school community."
Michalik said the budget included the provision for continued local funding for projects that include the full-day kindergarten pilot project, Indigenous education, and an additional 5.65 increase in full-time equivalent teachers.
"We can’t ignore the fact we’re growing and we have to hire more teachers. We’ve worked hard at getting to a place where class sizes are good, and don’t want to undo all the good work we’ve done," he said.
Go online at lrsd.net for more information.
Community journalist — The Lance
Simon Fuller is the community journalist for The Lance. Email him at email@example.com Call him at 204-697-7111