Facing a decline in enrolment and less money from the provincial government, School District 69 (Qualicum) administrative staff admitted they are going to have to get creative when it comes to next year’s budget.
At a budget information session February 22 at Springwood Middle School Secretary-Treasurer Bernice Hannam presented the figures the district has to work with and the bottom line is when the budget is tabled in April — it won’t be balanced.
Assistant Superintendent Rollie Koop told a sparsely-attended public meeting that enrolment projections determine the level of staffing and most school districts in the province are experiencing declining enrolment. He said in School District 69 it is projected that there will be 143 fewer students attending classes in September 2012.
He explained it will be a big challenge to stretch their funding dollars and they will have to come up with some new ideas to lessen the impact on students and teachers.
Last year, when the school board of trustees presented the prospect of closing Kwalikum Secondary School (KSS) as a cost-saving measure, parents and community groups in District 69 were outraged.
With a new board of education — with trustees who have said they want to keep KSS open — the issue of underutilized buildings still needs to be addressed. Koop admitted there isn’t a great deal of flexibility when it comes to staffing and class sizes.
Hannam said the $6,784 the government provides for each student in the district doesn’t cover all the fixed costs needed to keep schools running. She said currently School District 69 is receiving funding protection from the province because of declining enrollment, but there is no guarantee the government will continue that grant program.
“Of the 60 districts in the province, 31 are in funding protection. We are not alone. We get money for kids we don’t have … but is funding protection sustainable?” questioned Hannam.
She said school districts have the option of going to referendum to get funding for new programs or to expand certain programs that require equipment but she is not aware of any boards that have been successful taking that measure to get a program funded.
“Why invest the $30,000 it costs to go to referendum if it won’t pass?”
Koop said they may be able to generate some extra funds through some programs in the district which have a proven track record.
He said the Collaborative Alternative Education Program (CAEP) in which students from anywhere in the province can access on-line classes offered in school district 69 brings in additional money which is above and beyond funding protection.
He said they are already using teacher expertise in many different ways for CEAP and it could be a way to use existing capacity they have in their schools.
Another strong economic driver is the international student program. Koop said they have 115 full time international students in the district this year and the profit the program generates, about $500,000 goes back into the district.
He said school district 69’s international student program has a stellar reputation around the world and they are looking at tapping into more students in the Chinese market.
“We will have some agents over there in the next few weeks exploring a new partnership.”
Koop warned however that bringing in more foreign students won’t solve their budget woes and in fact it can create some other challenges.
“If we bring in another 40 students we won’t have room in classes and we will have to add more staff so we don’t exceed student limits in the classroom,” he stated and added, “Right now our competitive advantage is our community and positive home stays. We don’t want to hurt our brand. Some markets we can tap into but we do not want to over commit ourselves.”
Board chair Lynette Kershaw said the merits of the international program will need to be addressed further especially since the community has expressed its desire to expand it.
She also said she would like the school district to consider an official education plan similar to the city’s official community plan so that long range plans can be in place and trustees and administrators won’t have to struggle so much every time they are faced with the new budget.
The public is invited to bring their suggestions the next round of budget deliberations at the Parksville Civic and Technology Centre on March 27 at 6:30 p.m. and April 11, 18 and 24 at 7 p.m.
The series of board meetings will give the public an opportunity to provide the board with input into district budget priorities. Attendees will participate in round table discussions, sharing the resulting suggestions with the board.