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Sea to Sky school district braced for decrease in international students

District facing 73% drop in number of International students as a result of COVID-19
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Apart from missing some new faces in the classroom when in-school classes get underway in the 2020-21 school year, teachers and students in the local SD48 district shouldn't anticipate any other major differences in the face of a projected 73-per-cent drop in international students.

SD48 secretary treasurer Mohammed Azim said the district is working with a conservative budget in which it welcomes 50 international students for the school year, after hosting 188 in 2019-20.

"It's an issue for all B.C. school districts that have an international education program," he said. "One of the reasons why we're being conservative, along with any other school districts in B.C., is because this is such a fluid situation.

"We just have to go with the best information we have at this time."

Azim said the district is working off of a $62.5-million revenue projection next year while its expenditures are calculated at $62.1 million. That $400,000 contingency is roughly equal to the wiggle room that the district has enjoyed the past two years to use in case of emergency.

"We have managed to balance our budget," he said. "Even though our international student [rate] fell, what we're anticipating is just a temporary reduction in those students for next year."

Azim added that in recent discussions with higher levels of government, the district has reason to believe that international enrolment will likely surpass its 50-student projection.

"We're probably going to be adjusting our FTE (full-time enrolment) in the fall for international students, but like I said, we're just being conservative," he said. "We don't want to be over-projecting, especially because it is such a fluid situation right now."

Tuition for international students in 2020-21 is forecast at $13,000, Azim said.

The district will also benefit from an increase in domestic students, which would keep numbers stable.

"Our increase in our FTE when it comes to our regular kids, so far right now, is going to offset what our decrease would have been when it comes to international students," Azim said.

SD48's balanced budget comes at a time when cuts are possible in other districts. The Greater Victoria School District, for example, hasn't ruled out layoffs if not enough teachers retire to offset position cuts.

In a May 14 statement, SD48 said the health and safety of students and staff remains paramount, and it will seek guidance from the Provincial Health Officer and Ministry of Education with how best to run international education next school year.

"We do anticipate that current international parameters, including but not limited to: reduced international travel opportunities; quarantine expectations; reduced student visa opportunities; [and] general fear many families may feel about releasing their child for a year away from home to learn in another country at this time; are likely to impact our International Education student numbers across our country, province, and here locally in Sea to Sky," the statement said.




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