School District 43 (SD43) is set to pass a new operating budget in the coming weeks that will continue to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic without additional funding to cover anticipated extra costs.
The $324.7-million preliminary budget is more than $2 million less than spending for the current year, and a number of factors are being taken into consideration as SD43 plans for classes next September.
Among the considerations:
• SD43 is projecting 247 FTE fewer students due to a number of demographic factors, including families moving away due to higher housing costs, and the slow return of students who have been learning at home during the pandemic.
• Once students are actually in seats, enrolment may adjust upward, possibly ensuring the district gets more money from the province (The B.C. government pays approximately $7,885 per classroom student). But in the meantime, fewer students means less money from the provincial government to fund teachers, support workers, administrators, and education assistants.
• All data indicators, including housing development data collected from the municipalities, point to continued student enrolment decline over the next two years, even though significant new housing is being built, primarily in Coquitlam. Fewer students is cause for concern, the district says, because 92.6 per cent of its budget comes from provincial grant revenues based on enrolment.
• SD43 is experiencing growth in four areas: Burke Mountain, Coquitlam Centre, Burquitlam-Lougheed and Moody Centre. New housing developments do not necessarily generate new enrolment, but often create a shift of enrolment geographically within SD43. These new developments do however put additional pressure for capital needs for new schools or additions to existing schools, the district says.
• SD43 has seen a dramatic drop in international students enrolling in district middle and secondary schools since the pandemic, resulting in millions in lost revenue. In 2017-18, for example, SD43 received $37.8 million from international fees from 2,109 students. The money was used to pay for teachers, special cultural programs and provide surpluses to cover budget shortfalls. In 2022-23, the district is anticipating just 825 students, with revenue of $14.6 million, roughly what it received this year.
• Provincial grant funding is expected to increase to cover negotiated wage increases, but not inflation — even though the current inflation rate of about five per cent is the highest in 40 years. Additional funding to cover increased cleaning costs next fall are not expected and the federal government has not yet provided promised grants for air quality improvements, but two-thirds of the money has been spent already on new HEPA filters for classrooms.
• A further $3.9-million shortfall has been identified on an annual basis because of insufficient provincial grant funding for collective agreement salary and wage increases, combined with the cost of health tax replacement of the former medical services premium.
BURKE MOUNTAIN SCHOOL
• The district is expected to contribute $25 million towards the proposed Burke Mountain Middle-Secondary School, which, at $150 million, will be the most expensive ever built in B.C. The requirement to contribute a portion of costs will affect SD43 budgets for the next four years as any surplus will have to be directed toward covering this cost.
ON THE PLUS SIDE...
• SD43 is expected to spend less than its full budget this year, and the savings will be put towards the next school year's operating budget. An education stabilization reserve of $900,000 and $400,000 of one-time savings from restructuring a sick leave benefit plan, and $3.75 million in accumulated financial reserves will enable the district balance its budget. The district also gets funds from a classroom enhancement fund to ensure classes are adequately staffed to meet the contract.
FEWER TEACHERS, MORE EAs
• Fewer students and less grant funding means a reduction in teachers (24) and with COVID-19 waning and the end of a one-time grant to cover cleaning needs, the district will be letting go 10 temporary caretakers. However, seven additional educational assistants will be hired to support students with diverse learning needs.
SUPPLIES AND SERVICES
• SD43 is anticipating about $1 million less this year for supplies and services compared to the current school year, and will be cutting supplies to help make up the difference, including $380,000 supply reductions across all departments; $70,000 in furniture and equipment budgets across board office departments; a $320,000 reversal of one-time COVID-19 funding mostly used for additional cleaning supplies; a $80,000 reversal of one-time expenditure for Indigenous literary purchases in 2021-22; $100,000 reduction in the district contingency budget.
However, some supply budgets will be revisited in the fall if additional funding becomes available.