School district facing $2.3 million shortfall

There are 425 fewer students enrolled in School District 57 schools this fall and as a result the budget for the 2020-21 school year will take a $2.3 million hit.

Twelve elementary schools will lose at least one classroom while the district redistributes 18 teachers to other assignments, which will have an effect on increasing class sizes in those affected schools.

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“The good news is we’re probably closer 425 (full-time equivalent students) rather than the 500 we originally thought, but that still poses a significant funding challenge for the organization,” said SD 57 school board chair Tim Bennett.

There are 196 more students in SD 57’s distributed learning (correspondence) programs, which will bring in about $900,000 to the district’s $175 million budget. However, those students are not funded by the province to the same extent as in-class students and that adds up to about a $200,000 reduction.

The saving grace for the Prince George district is the province’s built-in funding protection which limits budget reductions from year to year to 1.5 per cent.

“Funding protection guarantees that no district will see less than 98.5 per cent of their previous year’s funding,” Bennett said. “If we were solely based on student enrollment we would have seen a more significant challenge.”

With 425 fewer FTE students, even with the funding protection, the district would be facing a $3.2 million shortfall, but Bennett said the $900,000 in funding for distributed learning, as well as additional savings the district has found, will reduce the budget deficit to $2.3 million.

The 18 teachers in the 12 schools affected by the enrollment decline will be reassigned to other schools or they will be added to a priority teachers teaching on call (TTOC) list. Bennett said those teachers will accommodate growth in the distributed learning program and will be available to fill in for colleagues taking leaves of absence, for maternity or other reasons.  

Student enrollment at three Prince George elementary schools - Vanway, Southridge and Springwood -grew enough to justify adding a classroom in each of those schools. Before the pandemic disrupted classes in mid-March, Bennett said the district forecast overall growth in student numbers for the upcoming school year.

The district will submit its enrollment figures to the Ministry of Education on Wednesday when those numbers are finalized. Richardson said there could be some fluctuation in the numbers before that deadline while families decide on whether to send their kids to school or choose distributed learning or homeschooling alternatives.

“While there may be some disruption for students in schools whose classes are reorganized to recognize this budget challenge, we are doing our best to ensure we have appropriate supports in place for both students and staff,” said SD 57 superintendent Anita Richardson. “We know that teachers and staff in our schools have worked very hard to build relationships and rapport with all of our students and that all staff will continue to do that work within their new class configurations.

 

“This year is an unusual year because families have had to make tough decisions about whether they return their children to school based on a variety of factors. We are making the best decisions we can in a less-than ideal situation, and this is not the way we want to start any school year.”

Bennett acknowledged the school board is trying to make the best of a bad situation, with so much uncertainty related to the pandemic and parents fearful of sending their children back to the classroom.

“School reorganization happens every year, in some ways, I think what is really different about this year it is affecting a much larger number of schools than normal,” he said. “Usually we have schools that have to add or subtract a division (classroom) during that first week, but this of course is significantly more schools than we’d be looking at in a normal school year.”

 

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