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Delta school board adopts budget as trustees call out ministry for shortfall

District facing $2.748-million shortfall for 2022-2023 amid declining enrolment, increasing costs
Delta School District headquarters in Ladner. (Grace Kennedy photo)

The Delta school board approved the district’s budget for the 2022-2023 school year on Tuesday evening (May 10), but not without a few scathing comments about under-funding by the provincial government.

The district’s operating budget for 2022-2023 is $166.2 million — $10 million less than the current school year — with a shortfall of about 1.7 per cent of its budgeted operating expenses.

The projected $2.748 million shortfall is primarily the result of a decline in student enrolment, an increase in staff benefit costs, a carry-forward from the current year’s budget (repayment of money pulled from the district’s funding reserve to help address the shortfall in 2021-2022), and various other salary-related costs.

As well, there was no increase in the Education Ministry’s per-pupil funding to cover inflationary costs, which the district says are significantly higher than usual this year as a result of the challenges caused by COVID-19, and districts will no longer be receiving funding from either the federal or provincial government to offset additional costs incurred as a result of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, revenue sources such as the district’s international student program and facility rentals have yet to rebound to pre-pandemic levels, reducing the district’s ability to absorb additional costs that go unfunded by the ministry.

With such a significant shortfall, and given that around 92 per cent of the district’s operating costs are staffing related, staff reductions next year are unavoidable in order to balance the budget.

READ MORE: Delta School District projecting over $2.7-million shortfall for 2022-2023

At Tuesday’s meeting, trustees thanked district staff for all their hard work in putting together the budget and acknowledged the difficult position staff were in as they tried to balance out the projected shortfall, before expressing their frustration over insufficient financial support from the ministry.

“It was so disappointing to not receive an increase in the per-pupil funding from the provincial government, especially in these times and especially with all the increased costs no thanks to the pandemic,” board chair Val Windsor said.

“To go from $7 million in extra [COVID-19] funding two years ago to just over $1 million for this school year to nothing for next year while the pandemic continues is very difficult for school boards to try and manage.”

Windsor said that pre-pandemic, the district was able to spend beyond what the Ministry of Education provided thanks to a number of factors including proceeds from the international student program.

“No thanks to the pandemic, no inflationary funding from the ministry [or increase in] per-pupil funding, declining enrollment of almost 300 students, fewer international students in our schools and other factors, we do not have those extra funds that have supported extra services to students in the past,” she said.

“I am hopeful that as the world recovers from the pandemic, district funds will increase and we will be able to restore some of the services that we’re being forced to cut right now.”

Trustee Laura Dixon said she was disappointed that provincial funding has stalled at a time when school districts are doing their best to recover from the pandemic.

“Nothing costs the same as it did last year. We’ve done our part, we’ve kept our administrative costs amongst the lowest in the province and our instructional spending is amongst the highest,” Dixon said.

“In the context of a pandemic and the resulting significant constraints on our international student department, we’ve had to take on ever-increasingly complex financial reporting burdens, roll out mandated information and technology systems and accept additional administrative overhead. All of this comes at a significant yet unfunded cost.”

Dixon said she believes the government shares the district’s priorities and vision, but that “standstill funding does not get us there.”

Trustee Nick Kanakos, meanwhile, expressed his concern for “the lack of adequate funding provided by the current provincial government, which has led to the current budget shortfall.”

“The provincial government chose not to increase the per-pupil funding amounts,” Kanakos said. “The district was given the same amount of funds as last year to run the daily operations of our district. The government did not provide any additional funds to cover increases in our operating costs. We see the cost for hydro, food and gas increasing in our daily lives, yet the government chose not to provide an increase to cover the costs of the [district]’s daily operations.”

Kanakos said there’s a systematic shortfall in how districts are funded by the ministry, “to the detriment of our students and our staff.”

“We were informed at the last British Columbia [School] Trustees Association AGM that the government is looking at an over $10 billion surplus, yet they have failed to provide adequate funding for education, at the cost of our students and staff.”

Trustees Erica Beard and Bruce Reid echoed their colleague’s comments before the board voted unanimously to approve the budget.

To balance the budget, the district will be reducing supply and expense allowances by $297,000 (cuts that are non-staffing in nature), and operating costs by $2.479 million.

The bulk of the savings, $1.772 million, will come from a district-wide reduction in inclusive learning staff, equal to 26.7 full-time positions. That represents about four per cent of the department’s overall $43-million budget.

At a media briefing on the draft budget in April, district secretary treasurer Nicola Christ said the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) positions reduced doesn’t tell the whole story, as the number is based on early enrollment and does not necessarily represent how the school year will actually play out.

Christ said numbers are being fine tuned all the time, with decisions being made to support student needs “one student at a time,” even if that means dipping into reserve funds as the year progresses.

“One cannot get a very good understanding of specifically what that may mean in terms of the impact based on the FTE number alone,” she said.

“This is a very complex situation in actuality. In a budget it’s just numbers and ‘FTE,’ and I think those numbers don’t do the actuality any justice. In real life, of course, every student matters enormously and every student’s needs matter enormously, and we take great care to make sure that all needs are taken care of and that the resources that are sitting here now are adapted in the manner that they do the most for students.”

Students with ministry special education designations will continue to receive support services as per their individual education plans despite overall reductions in staffing, however there will be some minor reductions in certain support areas for students who don’t have ministry designations.

Still, the district will continue to spend more on the inclusive learning department than the minimum required by the ministry.

There will also be a $128,000 reduction in the Indigenous education budget, removing one block of “Indigenous Education Advocates” time from each of Delta’s seven secondary schools. Funding will be maintained for the district’s Indigenous support team and reserve-funded Indigenous early literacy initiative.

The district plans to also reduce its academy programs costs by $93,000. As in 2021-2022, not all academies will run in 2022-2023, though which programs will be scaled back or eliminated has yet to be determined based on student interest.

One program that will be cancelled is the Farm Roots mini school in Boundary Bay, saving the district $49,000. The district notes the initiative has not proven to be financially sustainable and that there is insufficient student interest to warrant its continuance.

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James Smith

About the Author: James Smith

James Smith is the founding editor of the North Delta Reporter.
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