No big changes to Beautiful Plains School Division budget


By: Kate Jackman-Atkinson

This week, the Beautiful Plains School Division held budget consultation meetings in Neepawa and Carberry. Very few community members attended the Neepawa meeting where the preliminary budget, which includes minimal tax increases and little in the way of program changes, was presented.

Superintendent Jason Young talked about the division and its students. Over the 2013-2014 school year, he explained, the division will be continuing with its core values of respect, empathy and honesty.  He explained that when it comes to their decisions, “We’ve got to do what’s best for the kids and the community.” He added that the division is guided by the goal of creating lifelong learners and responsible, productive community members.

The division has been experiencing increasing enrolment, with Neepawa’s two schools taking on most of these new students. The most recent enrolment numbers show that 1,554 students are attending the division’s two high schools, four elementary schools and eight colony schools.

One of the biggest changes for the upcoming year will be the movement of the three Grade 6 classes in Neepawa from HMK to NACI. To support this move, the division has asked the province for two new portable classrooms; the third classroom will be accommodated within the school. The division has also asked the province for a new middle school for Neepawa but will not hear if that’s approved until March when the provincial budget is released.

In addition to regular instruction, the division offers counseling services, English as an alternative language (EAL), occupational and physiotherapy and assistance for funded special needs students.

In the current school year, 160 students receive EAL assistance, which includes the students who attend colony schools.  Young explained that after growth in the non-colony EAL students over the last few years, the number of students have plateaued in 2013.  He added, “We are expecting another surge in a year and half.”

The division has 94 funded special needs students, which includes assessed at level two, who need moderate assistance, and level three, who need a lot of assistance.  He explained that number of these students have remained fairly steady over the last few years, but added, “The trend is for some of the funding to tighten up as fewer students are being approved [for funding].”

Young explained that over the coming school year, the division’s focus will be on literacy, which they believe is essential to student success. This includes implementing the provincial report card, which will be mandatory in the 2014-2015 school year, increasing engagement with students and the community and professional learning for staff.

Looking at their literacy priority, Young explained that they have finished the first step of this goal, assessing students’ literacy levels. Now, they have to move to the next step which is helping students improve.

When it comes to engagement, Young said, “This is one of the most difficult hurdles.” He explained that for many students, academics isn’t what engages students with the school and they have been expanding their extra-curricular offerings, which now include apprenticeships, sports, the arts and social justice.

In addition to the request to the province for a new middle school for Neepawa, the division has a few plans for facility projects for the upcoming school year. They are planning for renovations to the home economics room at NACI and the entrance area at the elementary school in Carberry.  

Compared to both the province as a whole as rural school divisions in particular, the Beautiful Plains School Division’s cost per pupil is lower and their pupil to teacher ratio is either at or below the average. Secretary-treasurer Gord Olmstead explained that they have fewer students who need to be transported than other divisions as well as having fewer special needs students.

In the upcoming year, the division will be adding four new teachers.  Three of these are due to increased enrolment at Neepawa schools while the fourth has been added to offer teachers at colony school prep time.  They will also be adding an EAL teacher to help provide in class support. 

The division’s preliminary budget shows that expenditures are budgeted to increase by $888,000 or 5.5 per cent.  Most of this increase is from the addition of staff; 4.65 FTE instructional staff will be added and 3.15 FTE educational assistants will also be added. The division will also be adding 0.5 FTE to the maintenance staff, which will be custodial, and they will be eliminating 1.0 FTE from the pupil transportation staff with the elimination of one bus route.

While expenses are up, provincial funding has also increased for the 2013-2014 school year. Provincial funding accounts for 52 per cent of the budget and they will be receiving $570,000 more this year. Olmstead explained that the division’s funding increased because of rising enrolment, but also because of equalization. This increasing enrolment lowered the division assessment per student making them eligible for additional equalization funding. Local taxation has increased $120,000 or 2.2 per cent but most of this growth has come from growth in assessment due to new construction. 

The preliminary budget indicates a one per cent increase in the mill rate to 14.77 mills.  This means that in 2013, a residential property assessed at $200,000 will pay $13 more, a farm property will pay $7.50 more and a commercial property will bay $18.64 more.