(Sarah Gawdin/Hope Standard)

(Sarah Gawdin/Hope Standard)

SD78 $2.1M over budget due to COVID-19 costs

The school district will be dipping into its surplus funds to cover the extra expenses

The Fraser Cascade School District will be dipping into half of its $4.6 million in reserve funds to help cover additional costs from the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the Dec. 19 school board meeting, secretary-treasurer Natalie Lowe shared updates to the 2020-2021 budget, which saw increased spending in a number of areas. Some of these included pay increases for teachers and support staff, but many were specifically related to changes caused by COVID-19.

For example, the district is anticipating an increase of $100,000 to its utility bill this year. To ensure better air exchange within schools, and help combat the airborne virus, the district has been running its exhaust system at full capacity, which will likely increase utility costs by 30 per cent.

Other costs included the purchase of handwashing stations, sanitizing equipment and reusable masks, as well as hiring additional custodial staff.

SEE ALSO: Nearly 3,000 masks donated to Fraser Cascade schools

Changes to learning practices are also impacting the 2020-2021 budget. A move to online learning for some students

“We’re in a different learning environment this year,” Lowe said at the meeting.

Back in September, students were offered three different options for returning to school, including in-class instruction, transitional learning and online learning.

FROM AUGUST: Plans around SD78 school re-start begin to crystallize

FROM SEPTEMBER: SD78 outlines temporary online, fully online and homeschooling options for wary families

Chromebooks were purchased for students as part of this program, to make sure they had access to appropriate resources at home. The district also hired one teacher to facilitate the online program, as well as created five “transition teacher” positions.

Following the winter break, these six teachers will now be focusing solely on online students, rather than a transition back into school.

Funding for many of these COVID-19 related expenses has come from two grants.

The provincial government gave the school district $157,714 to cover specific activities. This included approximately $82,000 for frequency cleaning, $18,000 for cleaning supplies, $33,000 for hand hygiene, $8,000 for masks and $17,000 for computer assistance.

This money has all been spent.

The federal government has also provided nearly $600,000 to the district.The first installment of this money has already been spent on the five online teachers, cleaning equipment and increased Hydro costs for air circulation. It also paid for the reconfiguration of common areas and an extra bus run for early dismissal.

Despite the additional grant funding, the district is still expecting to use nearly half of its operating surplus from previous years. Some of this surplus actually came from the suspension of in-person learning in the 2019-2020 school year.

Although the district was expected to spend more than its budget last year, the COVID-19 changes resulted in some costs, such as substitute teachers, being reduced significantly.

Currently, the district is expecting to spend $2.14 million of its $4.6 million reserve funds, leaving around $2.4 million for future years.

Lowe noted in her report to the board that the district will likely be dipping into the surplus more often than in the past, due to higher operating costs and additional teachers and support staff caused by both inflation and the pandemic.

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