School District 51 initiates community meetings after education budgets announced
Even though provincial education budgets increased by $112 million over last year’s funding, School District 51 will be facing with an overall deficit of $976,000. A debt that Board of Trustees Chair Teresa Rezansoff said is due to costs that the district cannot avoid. As a result, the first in a series of financial meetings will be held next week to open discussion on whether to move forward with school closures in Midway and Beaverdell.
The Ministry of Education announced their budgets to individual school districts last week and school districts are just starting to fully understand their implications. Staff will receive a workbook in early April that will outline them the specifics of the local funding. In the meantime, the Board of Trustees met on Tuesday, Mar. 23 to develop a plan to address the anticipated shortfall.
Although the average per pupil funding is expected to increase by $105 to $8,301, operating funds will be increased to fund the teacher’s wage settlement and the implementation of full-day kindergarten, Rezansoff is clear that the budget allocated to the region does not meet their needs.
“We need to have a conversation on how we’re going to proceed in an open meeting,” said Rezansoff. “We know there is a shortfall. We can’t deny that (the province) has put dollars into it (education). But those dollars are not by any stretch of the imagination keeping up with the cost pressures. They are just not meeting them. They are costs we have no control over, it’s not like we can opt out. We can’t opt out of carbon offset dollars, the settlement for teachers and support staff increases, pensions, MSP payments – we have to pay them.”
School Superintendent Michael Strukoff said that staff has already been looking at how they can find savings within the current costs since they were expecting low funding for this year and school closures are just one of the areas that they are considering.
“In terms of the shortfall, we are working on that as we were anticipating a shortfall of $1.1 million,” said Strukoff. “We are making progress. So we’re going to start sharing proposal on how we’re going to address that at our financial meetings.”
In addition to the increases for per pupil and specific costs, there is an allocation for districts facing significant cumulative enrolment decline for additional supplemental funding. Rezansoff said they will be receiving an amount, but that structural deficits can only be propped up for a while and eventually the province will withdraw these supports. As a result, planning must consider a future without this additional money.
“The other piece we know is that $880,000 plus dollars are funding protection and transition dollars that we know are going to be gone. We don’t know how long in the future we’ll have it, two or three years, so we know that those are pieces that are not going to go away. We are going to have to continue to cut. It’s very evident that there isn’t a place that we’re not making cuts in the near future.”
Rezansoff said the district has been significantly cutting costs for years as funding has shrunk – cutting positions, moving to the four-day school week, etc. – and she feels there is not much left to cut. “Thankfully they are taking the numbers from the student decline and leaving it in the system,” said Rezansoff. “For our small district with a relatively small budget, on par, ours is pretty big. If you look at what we have for a shortfall this year, and couple that with our structural deficit – what we’re being propped up with – I just don’t know. It’s not a place that boards ever thought they would be in.”
Although the upcoming meetings will deal with the current year’s budgets, the district is still in the process of creating their strategic plan looking at a ten-year time line and current planning will impact on the future. “Declining enrollment will continue to be with us,” said Strukoff.
The first public meeting to discuss whether to proceed with school closures takes place on Monday, Mar. 29 at 6:30 p.m. at Midway Elementary School. Two additional finance committee meetings will also be held on Wednesday Apr. 7, 6:00 p.m. at Grand Forks Senior Secondary School and Thursday, Apr. 8, 6:00 p.m. at Midway Elementary School.