Winnipeg school boards seek property tax increases — is it time to merge divisions?

Winnipeg School Division administration building.
Winnipeg School Division administration building. Winnipeg Architecture Foundation

Two school divisions in Winnipeg are calling for an increase in property taxes in their 2019-2020 draft budgets.

The Winnipeg School Division is calling for a 2.9 per cent increase on property taxes.

The increase would add about $40 per year to the average tax bill for property owners in the school division.

A school trustee within the division warned cutbacks could be coming as a result of provincial funding levels.

READ MORE: Cutbacks could be coming to Winnipeg schools, says WSD trustee

The Louis Riel School Division is looking for a higher increase at 3.47 per cent, or $68 a year for the average homeowner.

The request comes despite the provincial government putting a two per cent cap on property tax increases in January.

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Property taxes are based on a calendar year, while school divisions use what they call “Special Requirements”, based on the school year.

READ MORE: Manitoba holds the line on school funding at 0.5 per cent – the same as last year

There are seven school divisions operating within the city, while other major cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary only have two.

The idea of combining divisions is something that’s being looked at in the K-12 education review says Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen.

“I need to be convinced that that’s the right number and so it will be the mandate to look at the potential consolidation of school divisions.”

“Nothing is off the table,” he said.

WATCH: Province calls on Manitoba school divisions to ‘hold the line or maybe tuck in a little bit’

Manitoba school divisions expected to ‘hold the line or maybe tuck in a little bit’
Manitoba school divisions expected to ‘hold the line or maybe tuck in a little bit’

Todd MacKay from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says consolidation could result in a more efficient system, if it’s done right.

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“There are often overlaps that can be rolled back. You can save tax payers money, if you can have less administration and more of those resources going to classrooms. It’s good if you can save tax payer money and stop increasing taxes as much.”

But school trustees like Winnipeg School Division’s board chair ​Chris Broughton says fewer school divisions would give parents and taxpayers less of a say in the way schools are run.

“Residents and rate payers and parents that have come to expect programs in their communities may not be able to see those programs continue in the future.”

READ MORE: Education review to look at reducing, eliminating elected school boards in Manitoba

University of Winnipeg economics professor Phillip Cyrenne says one benefit of combining divisions is that it could help bridge the gap between rich and poor divisions.

“The school divisions revenues are based quite a bit on the value of property in the area. Some areas have lots of commercial businesses so they pay school taxes as well and other areas might not has as much so you can get inequities of school tax revenues per division.”

The province’s review of the education system is expected to be complete February 2020.