Changes to student funding formula could negatively affect Nanaimo

Nanaimo school district’s secretary-treasurer believes changes to the way the province funds school districts will provide some certainty to finances, but trustees might still have to deal with significant budget pressures.

The province announced the changes late last week. They take effect next fall.

Changes include: additional funding for districts where the number of vulnerable students has increased; supplementing the CommunityLINK grant, which funds meal programs and other supports for vulnerable students, by $5 million next year and $11 million in 2013-14; more targeted funds for small districts and communities; a revised transportation supplement; and a funding protection grant to those districts experiencing enrolment decline.

Phil Turin, secretary-treasurer for Nanaimo school district, said it’s good news the province is continuing funding protection grants, but the amounts have been lowered from 100 per cent of the previous autumn’s funding level to at least 98.5 per cent, which means the district could see a $1.7-million reduction next year.

Each year thereafter will also see a further reduction of 1.5 per cent.

“That’s a budget pressure right away,” Turin said.

Earlier this year, Turin predicted the district could be in the hole by about $5.3 million next year if it did not receive any funding protection grant.

If the district receives 98.5 per cent of this year’s funding level, he estimates a shortfall of about $922,000, assuming the district loses 100 students. That could change as enrolment forecasts are revised throughout the year, Turin added.

He did not factor in changes to funding for transportation, small/rural schools or vulnerable students – Nanaimo has a good percentage of the latter – because details are not available, but said it will likely not mean an overall gain for the district, as the province is taking money from funding protection grants to pay for those changes.

“There’s no new money coming into the system,” said Turin. “They’re moving things around.”

Total operating funding for school districts this year reached $4.72 billion and is increasing $3 million next year.

Turin said staff plan to do some zero-based budgeting to see if there are areas where the district can do things more efficiently.

Zero-based budgeting means staff start budgets from scratch, rather than rolling over numbers from previous years.

“We have lots of work to do,” said Turin. “The only thing we can answer at this time is we know we will still get funding protection in the future.”

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said he was disappointed the province did not address the underfunding of special education programs.

He said about 50 per cent of students who require additional services do not receive extra funding for those services.