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Nanaimo school district’s budget includes new support for students on autism spectrum

Nanaimo-Ladysmith trustees approve preliminary budget at May 25 board meeting
Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ trustees have passed the preliminary 2022-23 school budget. (News Bulletin file)

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools trustees have allocated new spending to support elementary school students with complex needs, including those on the autism spectrum.

Trustees approved a $182-million preliminary budget for 2022-23 at their May 25 board meeting, which includes approximately $250,000 for staff time equivalent to one full-time vice-principal, one full-time child youth service worker and a part-time education assistant for a program for students needing very specific ongoing support.

Altered education delivery during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic showed students with complex needs are better served with hybrid learning than being in class for a full day, noted a budget overview.

Students expected to benefit include those “experiencing psycho-social barriers to regular attendance at school” and with “significant neurological differences due to a medical diagnosis of autism and other complex behavioural developmental condition” needing specialized programming that is more than can be offered by a school.

Kerri Steel, district director of instruction for elementary inclusive education, told the News Bulletin there is a multi-tiered system of support for schools. There are also Tier 1 supports for classroom-based programming and intervention and Tier 2, for small-group targeted interventions.

“Sometimes when we talk about Tier 3 needs, we’re talking about children who have really immensely complex needs in a school setting and when we work on visual schedules and transition routines and really individualize tailored learning opportunities, it can provide some really significant support for those students,” Steel said at a business committee meeting last month.

The Tier 3 program isn’t for a large population of students, Steel said at the meeting, but includes some who previously attended independent institutions and not public school.

“We have families begging us for an alternative we can’t yet provide and I really, truly believe that coming off of the pandemic we learned some things through our outreach model we didn’t know how to do two years ago,” said Steel. “We’ve got some ideas now that I think really could help us reach out to a community of learners that have been under-supported in the past.”

At the May 25 meeting, trustee Stephanie Higginson voiced support, but said the district should chart the program’s progress.

“I want to see us tracking this,” said Higginson. “I want us to monitor it and I want us to show that it’s working and if it’s not working, it’s OK, we just need to then revisit it, but I just want to be able to look at the information and be able to support the program fully and completely.”

As for other spending in the budget, close to $68 million will go to teacher salaries, $9 million to pay principal and vice-principals, $11 million for education assistants and $12.5 million for support staff. In all, the district is expected to spend over $138 million on total salaries and benefits.

Recently provincially mandated paid sick days for workers will add an unexpected $675,000 to the 2022-23 ledger, Mark Walsh, district secretary-treasurer, said at the May 25 meeting.

“We’ve been having debates internally, we’ve been talking to colleagues around the province, on what they’re looking at,” he said. “I will say I think the number we’ve picked is probably a little higher then the number actually will be, but given this is our first year of experience, we want to make sure that we’re as risk-averse as possible.”

The district projects an increase of 276 students in 2022-23 for a total estimated enrolment of 15,046 full-time students.

RELATED: Paid sick days could affect SD68 budget by close to $700K

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Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

After interning at Vancouver Metro free daily newspaper, I joined Black Press in 2010.
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