Evergreen School Division gets 2% less from province

Evergreen School Division superintendent Roza Gray and the board of trustees is dealing with a second consecutive budget with a funding shortfall from the province. Nathan Liewicki / Interlake Spectator

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GIMLI — Designing the 2018-19 budget was difficult for the Evergreen School Division board of trustees. Planning the 2019-20 budget proved to be even more challenging.

Despite the difficulty in constructing it, the budget was approved during a board meeting in Gimli on March 6.

Provincial support to ESD was reduced by 2% ($196,000), which follows a 2% dip from last year. Furthermore, a limit of a 2% increase has been placed on the special requirement levy, which is a portion of local tax. That number has been set at $11,245,070, and follows an increase of 0.66 mills to a mill rate of 11.050.

“It was a really difficult budget to work through because … it was an additional two per cent reduction from last year and because of the last-minute changes … to reduce our admin cap,” board chair Ruth Ann Furgala told The Interlake Spectator following Evergreen’s board meeting.

In total, the ESD’s 2019-20 budget is $21,510,015, which is an increase of 0.62%, with provincial funding representing 58.76% of the division’s total revenue.

Despite the difficulty of trying to formulate a budget without making a series of cuts, ESD superintendent Roza Gray noted the budget remained relatively unchanged from the one that was proposed in November.

“The budget didn’t change much because we guessed in November that we would get the cut that we got,” she said. “We built up the budget in November assuming the cut was going to happen, and it did.”

That doesn’t mean it’s an easy pill to swallow.

The reality is that all staff contracts, including senior administration, are presently in a wage freeze, trustees have reduced their overall budget by $22,000, inclduing a reduction in their indemnities — from $9,100 to $8,200 annually — and wherever possible budgets have been reduced by
approximately 3%.

Timelines for equipment and infrastructure replacement, such as buses, computers and the Gimli High School band room expansion, have also been extended.

“We’ve extended the cost of replacement of our computers over a longer time frame, our buses over a longer time frame, some of our other costs have been deferred so that we can have more money available right now, but this is not sustainable in the long term,” Gray said.

With cuts and wage freezes preently in place, the division has, however, been able to maintain several initiatives and priorities. These include support for small high schools (Riverton Collegiate Institute and Arborg Collegiate Institute); junior Kindergarten at two half-days per week and Kindergarten for three days per week; the mature student graduation diploma program; and equity grants provided to schools to reduce fees for students and families.

“We’re at the point where we’ve cut so many things that now we are going to have to start cutting programs,” Furgala speculated. “We’ve tightened as much as we can tighten.”

Looking ahead to the 2020-21 budget, if there’s a need to cut programs, Gray noted the divisions strategies will be reviewed again. However, things like three-days-a-week Kindergarten, smaller class sizes, middle years vocational/explorations and staffing for tiered supports are among the programs that could be in jeopardy.

No staffing has been cut — 1.0 FTE position will be reallocated from the division to schools — but the budget doesn’t mean there’s going to be an increase in teachers or support staff in the next academic year.

“We still have our support staff in place to manage,” Gray said. “We still have an educational psychologist, an occupational therapist and we still have all of those supports in place. The needs are rising, but we’re not increasing staffing in those areas right now.”