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Reductions on table in Pembina Trails school draft budget

·2 min read

Class sizes, support staff levels and school instructional budgets in the Pembina Trails School Division could all be affected next year, as the board looks for $7 million in savings in its upcoming budget.

The board of trustees unveiled the details of its 2021-22 draft budget at a virtual board meeting Thursday. The trustees discussed financial constraints related to a decrease in provincial funding, growing enrolment, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a recent arbitration award.

“There is no way we can avoid reductions in services to our students,” said Kathleen McMillan, chairwoman of the board, in a prepared release published Friday, with details of the draft budget.

“With no taxation authority and insufficient funding from the province, we are left in an unfortunate position.”

The province has earmarked $62.5 million in 2021-22 operating funding for Pembina Trails, which is the equivalent of a 0.3 per cent decrease.

Residents in the division will not see an increase in their property education tax bill. The province has asked all 37 public divisions to freeze the tax and instead will provide grants to divisions to cover the sum equivalent to a two per cent increase.

The draft document proposes a balanced budget of $183,156,077.

In order to achieve that figure, McMillan said the board is proposing to use its modest surplus and deferring infrastructure needs across the division to minimize the negative impact on student learning.

The draft budget suggests an increase in high school class sizes, the elimination of high school teacher librarians and the reduction of such positions in middle years, a decrease in educational assistants and K-8 English Additional Language specialists, and a drop in school instructional budgets.

A suspension of the Kindergarten Here We Come program is also on the table for 2021-22.

The recommended cuts reflect the fact the division is projecting 335 new students next year, unforeseen COVID-19 costs such as hiring more staff and purchasing 860 webcams for classrooms to support remote teaching, and the recent Pembina Trails Teachers’ Association award, according to the Friday release.

The decision challenges the province’s public-sector wage freeze directive, which was overturned in a court challenge last summer.

Retroactive and future payments in Pembina Trails are estimated at $12.5 million.

Residents can provide feedback on the draft budget via email or sign up to appear as a virtual delegation at a special board meeting scheduled March 4.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press