Winnipeg School Division complies with province’s demand to cap property tax increase at 2 per cent

The Winnipeg School Division’s board of trustees passed a budget Monday evening that complied with the education minister’s demands not to raise taxes above 2 per cent.

“We didn’t pass the budget of the Winnipeg School Division, we passed a budget that was essentially mandated for us by the minister of education,” said Lisa Naylor, WSD’s finance chair.

“We passed the budget because we weren’t left with any real choices,” she said.

The WSD initially sought a 2.9 per cent special requirement increase on property taxes to help fill gaps in its funding, but ended up passing the budget in a 7-2 vote with a 2 per cent increase after what they say amounted to threats from Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen.

The budget passed in a 7-2 vote, but trustees who voted ‘yes’ said they felt they had no choice given the ultimatum by the province. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Goertzen said last week that any school division that raises taxes above the two per cent cap would be penalized with a reduction in administrative funding.

“It was a threat from another level of government to penalize us substantially in a financial way,” said Naylor.

That reduction would have meant $1.3 million less for the Winnipeg School Division, something Naylor said would cripple the administration, not just affect jobs at the highest level.

“That’s all kind of jobs across administration, that would have been debilitating to us as a division,” she said.

WSD finance chair, Lisa Naylor, said the consequences of not passing the budget with a lower increase would have been financially devastating to the division. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

The proposed increase would have seen the average homeowner in the division pay an additional $41 in annual property taxes – calculated based on a home with an appraised value of $214,000.

The 2 per cent increase that was passed will end up being closer to a 2.45 per cent increase on total property taxes, about $35 more for the average home, a difference of $6.

The board said nothing will be cut from the existing budget, because it was too late to make changes, but there will be no additional services added.   

“All the things that we consulted with our community on, there’s a long list, none of them are being introduced, we’re adding in nothing,” said Naylor.

That list of new services included a new payroll system that would bring cost efficiencies, early childhood education supports for kids living with autism, and accessibility improvements.

In an email to CBC, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said he was happy with the board’s decision.

“We are pleased to see that the Winnipeg School Division was able to do what every other school division in Manitoba could,” he said.

“We are committed as a government to providing support to students and protecting taxpayers.”

Board Chair Chris Broughton, who voted against passing the budget, said if changes to funding aren’t made, there will be cuts next year.

“Next year, things are going to be dramatically worse if we continue down this path,” said Broughton.

WSD board chair, Chris Broughton, voted ‘no’ to the budget which abided by the province’s 2 per cent cap on the special requirement increase. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

“Without a change in provincial funding, without a change in the special requirement cap by this provincial government, we’re going to be forced to make extraordinarily tough decisions, that are going to lead to cuts that families are going to feel.”

Broughton said the board had no choice but to pass the budget, given the consequences of not doing so.

The province was trying to force them into cutting administration jobs, which isn’t an option because those cuts have already been made and there’ nothing left to cut Broughton said.

“Those [administration] costs aren’t the problem, the revenue side of the equation is the problem.”

Legal challenge ahead?

Trustee Mark Wasyliw said he’s not convinced the province was within their rights to force the division’s hand on the budget.

“I certainly, as a trustee, will be advocating that we explore all legal options against this government because they are taking away a democratically elected government’s right to tax,” said Wasyliw.

“Local decisions about education are no longer being made in your community, they’re being made for cynical political reasons on Broadway,” said Wasyliw.

Wasyliw said he’d be seeking support from the board to explore the legalities of implementing a cap on the special requirement increases.

“I’m not sure it’s constitutional and it’s certainly not moral.”

Trustee for Ward 3, Mark Wasyliw, said he will be asking the board to explore legal options to see if the province acted within the law. (Walther Bernal/CBC)