SD43 international education program stays 'strong'

B.C.'s largest international education program will have to cut expenses and possibly reduce grants to schools because of an overly optimistic revenue target that has contributed to School District 43's projected $7.5-million deficit.

International education revenues in School District 43 were budgeted to increase by $822,000 this year, adding to what some have called "a perfect storm" of higher costs and lower than expected revenues requiring belt-tightening in all departments.

Board chair Melissa Hyndes said the next board meeting on Feb. 5 will likely include another budget update for the public as the district continues to look at ways to reduce about $5 million in expenditures.

Hyndes agreed that requiring international education to generate 5.5% more in revenue when enrolment fees have stayed roughly the same for the past four years "wasn't reasonable" and she promised the board would examine future budgets line by line to ensure program spending and revenue projections are realistic.

"We will be scrutinizing," she said. "It's an understatement, every single line will be scrutinized from now on."

The good news is that international ed. continues to thrive in an increasingly competitive market. Assistant superintendent Patricia Gartland, who heads the program, said enrolment is holding steady at about 1,000 students, with new students arriving from Brazil and China, among other places.

International ed. has become increasingly diversified over the years after the financial crunch in 2008, when world markets dropped, and Gartland said SD43 is benefitting from new ESL and teaching programs as well as stable enrolment of foreign students, each of whom pays about $12,000 a year to attend school here.

In September 2012, for example, 1,052 students were counted, compared to 1,027 in 2011, but those numbers fluctuate throughout the year as students return to their home countries or become enrolled as regular students (if their parents immigrate), and new students come to take their place.

"During that time, we've had huge competition from within Canada and other jurisdictions," Gartland said.

And the fact annual revenue of about $15 million has stayed the same since 2008 means the program is "robust," not flagging.

Asked about international ed.'s contribution to SD43's $7.5-million deficit, she said she wasn't told about the higher revenue target assigned to her department and said it would have been impossible to achieve because enrolment would have had to jump by 80 to 100 students, which is unlikely in a year.

Still, she said the program is on target to earn as much, if not more, this year than last because of efforts to attract students in emerging markets and expand programs in other areas. But it will likely have to cut supply costs by about $100,000 to help reduce the deficit, and will likely cut grants it pays to schools that enrol foreign students.

International education is fully self-supporting and, in addition to paying for cultural grants, extra teachers and counsellors for foreign students, contributes between 20% and 40% of its revenues to SD43 general operating expenses — $3 million to $6 million each year.

The fact that SD43 international ed. continues to be strong bodes well for the future, according to Gartland, who said she expects steady income for years to come.

"We still have the biggest program in B.C. and we still have the biggest program in Canada in terms of revenues, which is the real measure."


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