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Red River Valley slashes budget

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 03/19/2018 9:30 AM

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Red River Valley School Division will shed $931,500 worth of programs, subsidies, and auxiliary positions this summer, in order to square a provincial funding decrease with increasing enrollment.

Superintendent Brad Curtis said trustees made every effort to soften the impact on students and teachers.

"This is a ‘what do we need’ budget, not ‘what do we want,’" he said.

Heading into the 2018-2019 school year, the division will grapple with a funding decrease of $264,000 and a projected enrollment increase of 56 students.

"That really hurt us this year," Curtis said. "If you have increasing enrollment, why would you get less funding?"

The cuts essentially return the division to early 2014, before it began implementing several new programs and supports.

"That would apply to pretty much every single cut that we made," Curtis said.

Beginning July 1, RRVSD will terminate a maintenance foreman, guidance coach, and two part-time French language leaders. The latter assisted unilingual literacy and numeracy coaches working in immersion schools, Curtis explained.

One position each in IT and clerical support will also be eliminated, while a behavior coach currently working with K-8 students in a third of the division’s 15 schools will be scaled back to half-time.

Subsidies for K-8 school supplies and high school optional course materials will both end, and no bus routes will be expanded.

Field trips will become less frequent and cost parents more, due to the removal of extra-curricular transportation support.

Outdoor play equipment funding will be slashed, but Curtis said maintenance budgets will cover safety-related repairs.

The timing of Education Minister Ian Wishart’s provincial funding announcement last month added urgency to the belt-tightening.

"There’s no question that we would have preferred that at least two weeks before," Curtis said.

Wishart’s two percent cap on special requirement increases, used by divisions to calculate their special levy, also set trustees back on their heels, Curtis said.

"It was a real change in how we do business," he said. "It’s certainly a shift in what’s happened in the last six years."

RRVSD’s special levy will increase by 8.9 percent, a slight drop from the 9.5 percent of previous years.

The upshot for ratepayers will vary by municipality. Curtis said some property owners may see a small decrease on their 2018 tax bill.

A public budget presentation held late last month drew 25 to 30 people, far more than is typical, and Curtis said discussion centred on philosophical questions regarding education funding.

Meanwhile, trustees are bracing for tougher decisions when next year’s budget planning begins, Curtis said.

"I’m not looking forward to that one. This was doable because we were taking away stuff that had been added, but I get worried about next year if it’s the same amount that we have to cut."

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