The fact that the School District of Mystery Lake (SDML) is getting more provincial funding for next school year is a good thing, even if the total mount of the increase – $850,000 – isn’t all that big in relative terms when applied to an organization with an annual budget of more than $40 million. Still more money is more money, and it will likely still be needed, given that wide-scale vaccination of Manitobans against COVID-19 isn’t expected to take place until late this year, if not later, though the situation could change depending on whether more vaccines become available.
Through the first half or so of this school year, SDML spent nearly $1.5 million on pandemic-related expenses and expects to spend up to more than $2.5 million in total by the time the year is through. While much of this budget has gone towards computers and laptops and tablets and other devices to enable remote learning, the district expects to spend more than $1 million on additional staff salaries and benefits this year than it had originally envisioned, with social distancing requirements resulting in it taking more staff to teach the same number of students. Since they are being asked to freeze their property taxes which they use to help fund their operations, in effect, the district could be trying to find $150,000 in savings just to continue providing the same level of service it is this year, if additional staffing needs aren’t diminished by the time next September rolls around.
As salaries and benefit costs tend to rise every year, particularly in a unionized environment, the actual savings that SDML needs to find could be even more. Once again, it will cost more to provide the same thing than it did the previous year.
Meagre as the increase is, the district could be much worse off. Seventeen of the province’s 37 school divisions are receiving the same funding or less next year, and will have even tougher choices to make when it comes to figuring out how to continue delivering education to Manitoba’s children while also keeping staff and students as safe as possible from possible exposure to COVID-19. And while no increase in the education portion of property taxes is nice, there’s certainly no guarantee that it means Thompson taxpayers will be paying less in this department next year, as it’s quite possible that the municipal portion could go up. Even with the education portion being frozen, actual taxes paid could be higher than they are right now.
Still, given the choice between a small increase and none at all, or even a slight decrease, the former is preferable to the latter.