The Seven Oaks School Division is considering cutting teachers and programs after its superintendent says a much-lauded increase in provincial education funding didn’t add up for the division.
Manitoba Education Minister Wayne Ewasko announced a $100 million increase in this year’s education funding at a press conference earlier this month.
At the time, the province said the additional money would mean divisions across the province would see at least a 2.5-per cent increase in operating dollars.
But Seven Oaks’ superintendent Brian O’Leary says the $3.3 million in additional money earmarked for his division this school year misses that mark and won’t come close to covering costs.
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“We have new subdivisions going in. We continue to take about 10 Ukrainian refugee students each week. So our enrolment is going to go up,” O’Leary said Monday, telling 680 CJOB the division is expecting roughly 350 new students this year.
“We’re looking to add some teaching positions to accommodate that increased enrolment (but) we are also facing wage pressures.
“So for us to budget anything for wage pressures, we would be looking at reducing between 25 and 50 teaching staff or some other combination of programs.”
In all, Seven Oaks is slated to get $91.7 million in provincial funding for the 2023/24 school year.
In a letter to parents last week, Seven Oaks board chair Maria Santos said the new provincial funding amounts to a 2.1-per cent increase in revenue and comes as the division is expecting a three percent increase in enrolment and further rising costs.
“Our schools have dealt with budget challenges for the past five years. We’ve been forced to cut staff, freeze budgets and trim programs,” Santos said in the letter.
“We are forced to contemplate further reductions including cutting teachers, eliminating programs like Learn to Swim, closing schools to after-school programs and eliminating busing for grade seven to 12 students.”
O’Leary warns any cuts made to teaching staff would likely lead to larger class sizes at schools “and less help for kids who need it.”
While Seven Oaks received the smallest increase in provincial funding among all Winnipeg school divisions this year, O’Leary said overall, the increases promised for other divisions look reasonable.
It’s why he says he thinks the province made a some sort of mistake when adding up Seven Oaks’ share.
“Part of our confusion here — and we’ve reached out to the government and asked them to look at it — is that the the funding was pretty reasonable for a number of school divisions,” he said.
“We think they’ve made a significant error in their allocation.”
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In an email to Global News Ewasko did not respond to a question about whether or not a mistake may have been made in Seven Oaks’ funding. In a statement, the minister instead said the division would be receiving the equivalent of a 3.8 per cent funding increase over last year.
“With the inclusion of the Property tax offset grant, which provides funding equal to a 2% increase on local taxes, Seven Oaks schools division is receiving a 3.8% funding increase,” Ewasko said.
“Seven Oaks school division received $88,373,206 of total funding in 2022/23 and are receiving $91,702,413 in total funding for the 2023/24 school year, which again represents a 3.8% overall increase.”
Seven Oaks held a public budget meeting Monday night and O’Leary says the division will need to have their budget finalized by mid-March.
O’Leary said if cuts need to be made, it’s the students who will ultimately pay the price.
“We’re still recovering from two and a half years of significant disruption to kids learning through COVID,” he said.
“Any cut that we contemplate, that’s going to have an impact.”
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