Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ district administration centre. (News Bulletin file)

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ district administration centre. (News Bulletin file)

Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district gets started on new budget amid unknowns

Ministry’s per-student funding increase doesn’t fully cover pay raises for teachers and support staff

Following a year with higher distance education enrolment and COVID-19 exposure, Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district will again budget under the pall of a pandemic.

Mark Walsh, district secretary-treasurer, made a presentation to school trustees at their April 7 education committee meeting and said sources of money won’t be as plentiful for this “status quo budget.”

“We will see a significant decline in our [totals] associated with the COVID-related funds from the federal and provincial governments,” said Walsh. “So we will be providing some options to the board to contemplate when we need to consider continuing some additional cleaning protocols if required, talk about some of the potential options … about how we support outreach on a forward-looking basis. But at the same time, that’s about $6 million, between the federal and provincial funds, that are coming right out the system.”

Walsh said staff already anticipated this and money was not intended to be in the “base operating budget.”

The district is estimating more students for next school year with 14,360 full-time equivalent students projected. Walsh said the increase isn’t significant, but could see students “move back to bricks-and-mortar” schools. He said the district is tracking enrolment day-to-day.

“If all of a sudden, the vaccination program is problematic and we see less kids enrolling or more kids [in distance ed] we would have to make some changes and come to the board with the financial implications of those changes,” said Walsh. “But at this time, based on what we’re seeing, we’re relatively confident that we’re going to see the enrolment that we’ve projected, which was conservative in the first place. The big question is, do we get more kids going to distance learning than we’ve predicted? And we’ll be keeping our eye on that.”

Another consideration for trustees, Walsh said, is the B.C. Ministry of Education is set to increase per-pupil funding for next year, which he said are largely intended to cover the costs of recent labour settlements. He said that it doesn’t appear as if new rates will fully cover the costs for CUPE and teacher increases. A staff report stated there would be $401,137 of new ministry money to address salary and inflation increases.

“Unfortunately there’s a number of pressures associated with the budget that are not actually funded by the increase,” said Walsh. “More notably, I think it’s really important, is $456,347 is the number we’re predicting at minimum is the increased requirement for staffing, just to support the new enrolment. If we’re only getting an additional $400,000, but after all the increases are paid for, we have to pay for $456,000 … we’re already sitting at a negative.”

According to the district budget calendar, an initial budget presentation will be made April 28, with the preliminary budget presented on May 12. The expectation is that the board will pass the budget in late May.

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reporter@nanaimobulletin.com

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