Manitoba moves to provincewide bargaining for teachers' salaries, raises school funding by about 0.5%
Province also freezes salaries for teachers, orders 15% cut to administration costs
Manitoba Education Minister Ian Wishart expects the province's school divisions to get by with a funding increase that is less than the rate of inflation after freezing teachers' salaries and cutting administration costs.
Provincial funding for public schools will rise by a meagre 0.5 per cent, less than the one per cent increase schools got last year, which opposition critics called a de facto cut because it was less than the rate of inflation.
To cope with that small increase, the province has imposed a two-year freeze on teachers' salaries under new legislation freezing public service wages. The province is also lowering the administration cost cap for all divisions by 15 per cent.
"All divisions were below their respective caps in the past three years, so this new approach doesn't penalize divisions that have already streamlined administrative costs," Wishart said.
The province is also eliminating the practice of each school division negotiating teachers' salaries and moving to provincewide collective bargaining.
"Certainly we've been hearing both comments from school boards, some feeling that they want to maintain that power. But many have already come to us and said, 'You know, it makes so much more sense to do it at a provincial level.' And we are literally the last province left doing this," Wishart said at a news conference on Thursday.
Cap on property tax increases
Wishart also asked school divisions to cap property tax increases at two per cent, and announced the Tax Incentive Grant (TIG) would be gradually phased out over six years. The program rewarded school divisions that did not raise property taxes.
Wishart said the grant will be adjusted so that school boards don't receive less than 98 per cent of the previous year's operating and tax incentive grants combined.
"We certainly believe that this is doable with the two per cent local levy guideline and the fact that we have frozen, effectively, the biggest single part of their costs, that being teachers' salaries," he said.
All school boards have been asked by the province to keep their education property tax increases to no more than two per cent. Wishart said there is no penalty if school boards increase taxes by more than that, but he said the province might consider legislative options if school boards don't comply.
The 0.5 per cent amounts to an increase of $6.6 million, for total funding of $1.323 billion.
A 'de facto cut': NDP
"Today's announcement makes it clear that [Premier] Brian Pallister doesn't care enough about the future of education in Manitoba," NDP education critic Matt Wiebe said in a statement sent out Thursday afternoon.
"This is the smallest funding increase in 18 years, and doesn't even keep up with the growth of enrolment," Wiebe said, once again calling this year's increase a "de facto cut," because at 0.5 per cent, it is less than the rate of inflation.
Teachers don't deserve a minister of education that wants to light a fire under their labour contracts.- Winnipeg School Division chair Sherri Rollins
He was also critical of the gradual removal of the Tax Incentive Grant, claiming that will leave a $61-million hole in school divisions' budgets.
The chair of the Winnipeg School Division said Manitoba's education minister is picking a fight with the province's teachers.
"I'm not happy with a minister that's interested in fearmongering my staff. And teachers don't deserve a minister of education that wants to light a fire under their labour contracts," said Sherri Rollins.
She says the province's announcement to increase funding by only half a per cent next year will gouge front-line programs that deal with high-needs students.
Manitoba Teachers' Society president Norm Gould called the funding increase a "disappointment."
"Teachers are facing large increases in student enrolment, a growing influx of refugee and newcomer students, chronic — and I mean chronic — child poverty and more special needs kids than ever, and this is what government thinks our students are worth?" Gould said in a statement.
More changes coming
Minister Wishart also reiterated his government's commitment to doing a full review of K-12 education in 2019, including funding.
The farm policy organization Keystone Agricultural Producers said they've been requesting that for decades.
"Farmers pay a disproportionate amount of education taxes because they are billed [based on the value of] their land," said KAP president Dan Mazier.
According to Mazier the increase in the average farm sizes, combined with increasing school taxes, has created a "crisis situation," and he says farmers want a seat at the table when education is reviewed next year.
With files from Up To Speed and Nadia Kidwai