Hold line on tax increases or face administration cut, Manitoba education minister warns school divisions
'They're making it impossible for us to do anything but what the minister wants': WSD finance chair
Manitoba Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen has threatened to force any school divisions that raise taxes too high to cut back on administrative positions.
Goertzen said Tuesday the province has the regulatory authority to lower the cap on the amount of money school divisions can spend on administration, which would force school divisions to find efficiencies.
He didn't mention the Winnipeg School Division by name, but he nevertheless clearly suggested it may be the only division to receive that directive.
"We've always said we want to protect taxpayers. We've encouraged school divisions to do that. The vast majority, if not all of them except for one, I think, will do that," Goertzen said Tuesday following a pre-budget news conference at a Vita Health in Winnipeg.
While the province has asked all school divisions to hold the line on property taxes and said property tax increases cannot exceed two per cent, the Winnipeg School Division has contemplated a property tax increase of 2.9 per cent for the next school year as a means of filling a hole in provincial funding.
No one should be surprised, Goertzen said, to see "a differential rate between those who are being responsible for the ratepayers and those who aren't."
WSD 'basically handcuffed': finance chair
WSD finance chair Lisa Naylor said the division was warned last week it would have to cut administrative costs to 2.4 per cent of its total budget from 2.7 per cent if it went ahead with the proposed tax hike.
She believes the board has no choice but to follow the province's wishes and keep property taxes below two per cent. The board will pass its budget on Monday.
"We feel the minister has basically handcuffed us," Naylor said.
If the division goes ahead with a tax increase over two per cent, she said, "they're going to claw back far more than that from our administrative budget. They're making it impossible for us to do anything but what the minister wants."
She's disappointed the province instituted this "punishment" so late in the budgetary process, following five consultation sessions where Naylor says Winnipeggers indicated they want more investment in public education.
"We understand now as a board that we're not going to be able to address those issues of accessibility and accountability that we had intended to address," she said.
Goertzen has previously asked divisions to continue to reduce administrative costs, as the province continues its efforts to slash the province's deficit.
Administration seems bloated: Goertzen
He also chastised the Winnipeg School Division on Tuesday for the size of its bureaucracy — something he has previously done on Twitter.
"There are divisions that have 197 people making more than $100,000. I think that there is room to find those savings and make sure the taxpayers are protected," said Goertzen.
Naylor said the province is falsely communicating the idea the school division is being reckless with the public purse.
"That's very disturbing to us, when we see what's really a crisis in public education."
Before Tuesday's news conference, Finance Minister Scott Fielding told reporters the province's push for fiscal restraint will continue in the release of the provincial budget on Thursday.
"There's a recognition ... that we were left with a heck of a mess, and we're cleaning it up and we're doing things to sustain services for a long period of time," Fielding said.
He declined to say if a target date for a promised provincial sales tax cut would be announced along with this week's budget.
Fielding did, however, have a gift for one Manitoban Tuesday.
The Pallister government continued its twist on the "new shoes" budget day tradition — which normally sees a finance minister buy new footwear ahead of delivering a budget.
Fielding instead presented a new pair of kicks to Kris Enns, a Special Olympian and longtime employee at Vita Health on Corydon Avenue.
"We like people that are getting things done and that sounds like exactly what you're doing," Fielding told Enns.
With files from The Canadian Press