The Delta School District is facing a $2.748-million shortfall as it budgets for the 2022-2023 school year.
The district’s draft operating budget for the upcoming school year, released on April 28, 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 shortfall is primarily the result of a decline in student enrolment ($631,000), an increase in staff benefit costs ($643,000), a carry-forward from the current year’s budget ($854,000, money pulled from the district’s funding reserve to help address the shortfall in 2021-2022), and various other salary-related costs ($620,000).
Staffing reductions will be unavoidable to balance the budget, given around 92 per cent of the district’s operating costs are staffing related.
“As always, we are committed to balancing the budget in the most student-centred way possible, while at the same time protecting the school district from risk and ensuring alignment with our Vision 2030 and strategic priorities,” district secretary treasurer Nicola Christ said in a press release.
“We thoroughly examined all areas to see what we can do more efficiently to make the most thoughtful and strategic decisions possible, and to ensure that we do not impact any one area more than necessary. Where we have had to make reductions to programs, we identified programs that haven’t made as much of a beneficial impact to students as anticipated or that are not sustainable moving forward.”
It’s the third year in row that the district is projecting a shortfall, after a “modest” $582,000 shortfall in 2020-2021 and a $2.722-million shortfall in 2021-2022. No staffing reductions were necessary in either of those school years.
The district is expecting 293 fewer full-time enrolled students for the 2022-2023 school year, projecting a total of 15,293 across all grades come September. This translates into a decrease in funding from the province.
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.
In 2020-2021 and 2021-2022, the district received a number of significant federal and provincial grants to help alleviate pandemic-related costs. However, none of these one-time funding sources are available for the coming school year.
“Their absence from the 2022-2023 budget is highly significant and will be felt throughout the district,” the release states.
Also affecting next year’s budget is the impact of the pandemic on the district’s international student program.
In previous years, the district could count on revenue from the program to top up its reserves, allowing the district to spend about eight per cent more than the available ministry funding on student programs and district facilities.
However, international student enrollment was severely impacted by the pandemic, with the program netting the district just $3 million in 2020/2021, down from $6.6 million in the year prior.
In budgeting for 2021-2022, the district was able to address its $2.7 million shortfall through a $1.87-million reduction in operating costs, including the elimination of staffing contingency funds, and by pulling $854,000 from the funding reserve.
However, using reserves to balance the previous budget has led to a carry-forward shortfall, and removing the contingency staffing amounts means there is even less flexibility in the budget this year.
“Our financial story applies very much to other school districts as well because we’ve all been through the same circumstances together, with COVID and funding that has been provided and so on,” Christ said during a media briefing Tuesday morning (April 26).
“In summary, one could say that we’ve developed an increased need for funding and that we have increased service expectations at time when we are now facing a significantly tighter budget, and with decreasing reserves.
“The important piece for us here is that we believe that it is important to be financially more cautious, but also that this shortfall this year will be felt more deeply than other similar shortfalls may have been experienced in the past.”
Balancing the budget
To reduce its operating costs for 2022-2023 in a way that least impact students, district staff propose reducing supply and expense allowances by $297,000 (cuts that are non-staffing in nature), and operating costs by $2.479 million.
The proposed reductions are designed to have as little impact on students as possible and are focused on program areas the district says have a limited effect on student success and well-being.
The bulk of the savings, $1.772 million, would 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.
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. She 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.”
Under the proposed budget, students with ministry special education designations would continue to receive support services as per their individual education plans despite overall reductions in staffing, however there would be some minor reductions in certain support areas for students who don’t have ministry designations.
Still, the district would continue to spend more on the inclusive learning department than the minimum required by the ministry.
As a result of the impacts of the pandemic, the international student program is operating at reduced levels and can reduce its overheads, resulting in a savings of $224,000.
There would 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 would 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.
Other savings include eliminating the energy manager budget ($123,000), a reduction in water-related utility costs ($60,000) and the discontinuation of the Continuing Education print catalogue in favour of the online version ($30,000).
Members of the public can provide their input and feedback on the draft budget at a public board meeting to be held on Tuesday, May 3 via Zoom. The meeting, which gets underway at 7:30 p.m., is can also be viewed live or on demand via YouTube.
Those wishing to speak at the meeting can sign up by emailing email@example.com. Anyone who prefers submitting their input in writing can do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. A short survey is also available on the district’s website (deltasd.bc.ca).
The deadline to submit feedback or to sign up to speak at the board meeting is noon on May 3.
The board is sceduled to vote on the budget on May 10.
For more information on the budget process and the public’s role in it, visit deltasd.bc.ca/news-events/news/delta-school-district-budget-process-2022-2023.