Winnipeg School Division will no longer be funding police in schools program
By Canadian Press
By Canadian Press
March 9, 2021 – The Winnipeg School Division will no longer pitch-in to cover the price tag of having nine uniformed police officers work in its schools, as part of a series of cost-cutting measures slated to take place in 2021-22.
On Tuesday, the division published the details of its official $421-million budget, which takes into account a 1.6 per cent decline in provincial operating funding and a directive to freeze property education taxes, for the upcoming school year. In order to find nearly $4.5 million in savings, trustees approved cuts to the school resource officer and milk subsidy programs, as well as changes to centres that support languages and students with severe emotional and behavioural disorders.
The budget for non-salary expenses in schools is being reduced, year-round clerical positions will be downsized into 10-month contracts, and WSD is expected to review the possibility of increasing 30 km/h zones around schools to reduce its crossing guard roster.
The board also anticipates it will be able to find savings related to utilities, unfilled support position vacancies, cellphone reimbursements, and enrolment reductions next year.
Trustees, however, voted to keep funding occupational therapy and physiotherapy programs, which were originally on the chopping block, after backlash from parents of students who rely on those services.
“When we were looking at the budget, we were just trying to really hone in on what will support the children and the youth to be successful in school,” said Betty Edel, board chairwoman.
Edel said school resource officers, often referred to as SROs, didn’t make the cut—solely for financial reasons, adding the division still plans to make public the results of its early 2021 community survey of the program in the coming weeks.
The program, which is currently tri-funded by the division, province and Winnipeg Police Service, launched in the Manitoba capital in 2002, with a goal of building trust between marginalized students and police.
WSD is pulling its annual contribution of $537,174, breaking the recently renewed contract between the parties.
“I really believe this is going to negatively affect safety, peace in schools, crime prevention and a lot of relationships that have been built,” Insp. Bonnie Emerson, of the WPS community support division, said Tuesday.
Emerson said the officers divert calls that would be made to the non-emergency line or 911 by practising restorative justice on a regular basis.
Meantime, the Police-Free Schools Winnipeg movement celebrated the announcement as a “powerful victory.”
The organizers behind the collective claim the program is an example of police overreach and makes BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) students feel unsafe at school.
While Emerson said the program, as it currently stands in WSD, will disappear, she indicated police will be looking at other ways to support schools in central Winnipeg.
Teaching salaries and student services account for the majority of WSD expenses, approximately 75 per cent of the total budget, followed by operations and maintenance, administration and transportation—at approximately 12 per cent, 2.7 per cent, and just under two per cent, respectively.
Edel said the budget anticipates the province will cover any retroactive salary costs related to a collective agreement settlement. If the province refuses to do so, she said WSD will have to consult its community on further cuts.