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Winnipeg school trustee furious at province’s tax crackdown

Winnipeg School Division Ward 3 trustee Mark Wasyliw.
Winnipeg School Division Ward 3 trustee Mark Wasyliw. Josh Arason/Global News

The Pallister government is threatening a crackdown on school funding for divisions that don’t keep their property taxes in check.

It’s part of the Progressive Conservative government’s effort to rein things in fiscally, and more is expected in Thursday’s budget.

Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said any school division that ignores a provincial directive earlier this year to cap property tax increases at two per cent will be forced to cut administration costs.

READ MORE: Pallister government warns of admin cuts to school boards who ignore tax cap

It’s a directive that has at least one school trustee fuming.

Mark Wasyliw, trustee for the Winnipeg School Division’s Ward 3, told 680 CJOB the province’s announcement is nothing more than “petty politics” and a way to punish already underfunded school boards.

“It’s reckless, it’s irresponsible, and I’m actually shocked the government is making these kinds of bully threats in this way,” Wasyliw said Wednesday.

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“The man is threatening us. We take the threat seriously and we certainly are respecting that he’s sincere when he says he’s going to punish school boards.”

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Wasyliw said the Winnipeg School Division held five public forums, and that the division’s constituents were clear that they supported a 2.9 per cent tax increase to help meet critical needs of teachers and students.

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

Being forced to cut administration costs, he said, will put the division in dire straights.

“We don’t have enough staff now to run what we’re doing, and the minister is threatening to gut us and throw us into chaos,” he said.

“We would lose over a million dollars worth of staff that way, and right now we’re struggling because our administration costs are so low to begin with. We could not survive a further cut.”

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Above all, said Wasyliw, the directive ignores a very key piece of the educational puzzle.

“One thing that’s absent in this conversation is no one’s talking about students. This is all just petty politics, it’s score settling.”

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

The Winnipeg School Division shared the following open letter to Premier Pallister on education funding in Manitoba:

Chris Broughton, chair of the school board, told 680 CJOB that the open letter was due to frustration with the division’s attempts to communicate with the education minister directly.

“The past few months, we’ve made five requests of the minister of education, Kelvin Goertzen, to meet and discuss education at the Winnipeg School Division and across the province,” said Broughton.

“Everything from student outcomes to funding of education, and the minister is yet to respond to any of our requests.

“The province is the one doing most of the damage to the average resident’s property tax bill when it comes to education costs, and that’s before we get a chance to deliver on the services that students need to improve their outcomes.

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“We’re working within our budget, but the province is hamstringing us, and then at the 11th hour, giving us new rules that we haven’t been able to consult with the community on.”