Teacher salaries, special needs dominate SD78 budget talks

Fraser Cascade has been dipping into reserves to make up teacher salaries

Teachers salaries and students with special needs were at the forefront of school board budget talks Tuesday night.

Fraser-Cascade trustees gave the 2019/20 school year amended budget a unanimous first and second reading, following a presentation by secretary-treasurer Natalie Lowe.

“All in all, our budget is being squeezed,” she told the board.

This year saw a drop in expected enrollment in the district of about 70 students, which is an important factor in budgeting as districts are given funding based on enrolment. But the drop was somewhat unexpected, and the district did not lay off teachers in the spring of 2019, Lowe said. They chose to retain the teachers rather than scramble to hire staff that isn’t there.

That meant being creative with placing students in September. And, she added, it means that the district has been dipping into its reserves to pay for instruction.

That’s okay short-term, she said, because there is a contingency for such situations. But it can’t continue long term.

“It isn’t sustainable at this level,” she said. “We won’t be able to maintain this level of staffing.”

The distict is also feeling squeezed as more students are needing special education assistance.

“Our needs aren’t keeping pace with our funding,” she said. Overall, the province has seen a dramatic rise in students with special needs. Lowe reported that the number has risen by 2,221 students just since last September.

And that trend is definitely being echoed in the Fraser Cascade.

“We are continuing to notice an increase in students with special needs coming to our district and this raises challenges in terms of appropriately trained staffing, infrastructure and resources,” her budget report states. “These needs are putting a stress on our available resources.”

The Ministry of Education has announced it will be using a new funding formula for the upcoming school year, but hasn’t made any details known to the districts yet. Lowe said all districts are waiting with “bated breath,” and there are surely to be “winners and losers” with the adjustments some are predicting.

That puts the issues of teacher and support staffing levels in the crosshairs for 2020/2021. She conceded there will be layoffs in the spring. They will review the new formula and all implications to the district when they get the details from the province, and they will be focusing on special needs students “to ensure we have adequate resources assigned for our low incidence students.”

This year’s annual amended budget is $27,922,861. Of that budget, just over $9 million is for teachers, $2.4 million is for education assistants, $2.35 million is for support staff, $1.68 million is for principals and vice principals, just over $900,000 is for subsitutes and about $864,000 is for other professionals.

The third reading and adoption of the amended budget is expected at the next board meeting, which is to be held Feb. 18 at Harrison Hot Spring elementary.


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