Winnipeg School Division budget cuts police from schools 'solely for financial reasons'
Board-ordered review of resource officer program not yet done, didn't factor in: WSD
There won't be police officers regularly in schools in Winnipeg's largest division next year, a new budget suggests.
The Winnipeg School Division board of trustees passed its 2021-22 budget on Tuesday. Among other cuts, which the board suggested were necessary due to a reduction in funding from the province, the division has opted to eliminate over half a million dollars in funding for its school resource officer (SRO) program.
The decision to cut the $537,174 program was made "solely for financial reasons," a statement from the division reads.
The final division budget that's being submitted to the province for the next school year totals over $420 million. About three-quarters of that is made of salaries for teachers and other education staff.
The division said provincial funding dropped 1.6 per cent for next year, or over $2.9 million, and the province has directing the division to freeze property tax levies at 2020 levels. Combined, the reductions amount to nearly $4.5 million less flowing into the division, according to a WSD release.
"Moving the burden of funding for unique programming onto property owners wouldn't be our preference, but the province has made even that option unavailable while also ignoring these valued programs," Betty Edel, chair of the WSD board of trustees, said in a statement.
In an emailed statement to CBC, Education Minister Cliff Cullen said the province has increased education funding by 1.56 per cent this year, for a "record investment" of $1.35 billion. Coupled with the property tax offset grant — the equivalent of a two per cent property tax increase — he said the division has received an additional $4 million.
"It is unfortunate the Winnipeg School Division continues to mislead parents and use the threats of cuts to student programs and services to deflect responsibility for the handling of their budget," he said.
'We applaud the withdrawal'
Cutting the SRO program in WSD comes after calls from community groups last year to remove police from schools in Manitoba.
"We applaud the withdrawal of funding for the program as the first step towards healthy, equitable and truly anti-racist schools," said Cam Scott, an organizer with Police Free Schools Winnipeg.
Demands from the group followed global social and racial justice movements that spread after the death of George Floyd one year ago.
Video revealed Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressing on the neck of Floyd, an unarmed Black man, for almost nine minutes before he died. Chauvin's murder trial is undergoing jury selection this week.
The killing was one of several deadly incidents involving police last year that served as catalysts for public protests and calls for police reform and abolishment, including in Manitoba.
In September, Winnipeg city councillors voted to renew a contract with divisions that puts officers in schools, though the vote wasn't unanimous.
That contract includes 19 Winnipeg police officers spread across schools in the city with in-kind support totalling almost $3 million.
The River East School Division board passed its budget last week and approved funding for two SROs, meanwhile Pembina Trails School Division has two resource officers in its 35 schools.
Winnipeg police say there are SROs stationed in six divisions, with nine officers in WSD alone.
SRO cut not based on review: WSD
The WSD board requested a review of the SRO program last fall. That led to a survey of views among parents and students in January and February.
WSD spokesperson Radean Carter said the results have not yet been shared with the board. The cut was based only on the "need to make significant cuts to balance the budget," Carter said in a statement.
But an inspector with the Winnipeg police community support division, which oversees the school resource officer program, said she is disappointed the cut came before the results of the review.
"If this was something that was doing harm we would've been the first one to say that's not right, but that wasn't the feedback," said Insp. Bonnie Emerson.
Emerson said officers in North End WSD schools are focused on crime prevention, education and other outreach initiatives. She said having officers in schools helps develop positive relationships between them and students. That can help de-escalate potential safety issues in schools while keeping youth from being charged and ending up in the justice system, she said.
"We're disappointed, but disappointed for the students, the parents, the administrators in the North End," said Emerson, who has worked in the SRO program for 29 years. "We really feel it's going to impact safety in a negative way."
Scott said the school resource program has a larger presence in more diverse parts of the city, echoing concerns of over-policing racialized communities.
"Not only does the presence of armed officers create a foreboding and exclusive atmosphere that actively pushes students out, but they are at best performing roles that could could be better filled by a trained professional, be that a counsellor or a trained nurse or an educational assistant," said Scott.
Other WSD budget reductions include cutting $210,000 for a milk subsidy and an estimated $164,250 in potential savings by cutting the number of adult crossing guards.
The division also plans to eliminate $2.4 million through cuts to utilities costs, unfilled support job openings, enrolment reductions, cellphone reimbursements expenses and shortening the length of clerical positions.
With files from Bryce Hoye and Erin Brohman