Winnipeg school taxes, budgets depend on 1st Brian Pallister budget

The Winnipeg School Division board of trustees will go through education funding line by line when the new provincial government releases its first budget Tuesday.

Manitoba education budget holds 'huge' implications for schools, Winnipeg board chair says

Mark Wasyliw, chair of the Winnipeg School Division board, said he hopes Premier Brian Pallister and the new provincial government make good on funding promises made by the previous administration. (CBC)

The Winnipeg School Division board of trustees will go through education funding line by line when the new provincial government releases its first budget Tuesday.

Mark Wasyliw, chair of the Winnipeg School Division board, said Brian Pallister's first budget as premier has "huge" implications for schools.

On May 18, Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen delivered a grim forecast for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The province's debt could rise above the $1-billion mark, he said, adding the government's finances were in far worse shape under Greg Selinger than the Progressive Conservatives expected.
Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen gives an update on the province's deficit on May 18, 2016. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

"Over the last decade, core budget expenditures were exceeded every single year," he said at the time. "The consequences of this pattern of overspending budgets are alarming. It will take time to undo the damage we have inherited and to correct the course, but we are confident in our team's ability to deliver for Manitobans."

Wasyliw hopes the new government improves the funding model, which has been responsible for chronically underfunding schools for the past three decades, he said.

The NDP had promised to boost funding for aboriginal, inner city and newcomer students in the coming years. 

The Progressive Conservatives had promised to leave core operating funding alone for schools, but Wasyliw is worried about additional funding he says is sorely needed.

"The funding for special needs students, the funding for students from low economic backgrounds with multiple barriers to learning, newcomer students and Indigenous students, we don't fund that really well. If we want and believe in Manitoba that all children have the right to graduate and succeed, we have to put more money into those type of programs, and that just hasn't happened."

The previous government vowed to update science labs and improve vocational programming at schools such as Tec Voc in Winnipeg.

Wasyliw said he will watch closely to see if Pallister keeps those commitments.

"We don't know how they're going to view education. They haven't really been open about defining what they consider a front-line worker or what they consider something that is an essential service," he said.

'Bursting at the seams'

The Selinger government had also committed to building a new school in the Waterford Green neighbourhood in the north part of Winnipeg. The community has a shortage of spaces in existing classrooms. Plans for the new school would add about 500 spaces from kindergarten to Grade 8.

Stanley Knowles School is in the same area and currently has more than 12 portable overflow classroom units attached to the building. It's "bursting at the seams," Wasyliw said.

"We can't continue to overload the schools that are there. We need a new school," he said.

Wasyliw also hopes more child-care centres are built in schools. The Selinger government had promised to invest in more on-site child-care facilities.

"It's the one place you can go and have all your services, and then we can do joint programming with the daycares and better transition for these young students into our schools," he said. "That was an exciting initiative, and I think it's a real step forward for Manitoba, and I hope they keep it in place."

If the new budget doesn't deliver promises made by the previous government, the school division could be forced to raise taxes or cut services, Wasyliw said.