School board will have to do with less 

Larger class sizes are likely as Howe Sound school district copes with a shrinking budget.

This week the provincial government announced Howe Sound will get $29,971,467 for the next fiscal year. That’s about $1 million less than it received previously, said school board chair Amy Shoup.

"At first blush we are about a million less than last year and that is significant and we are very concerned about that," said Shoup who attended a weekend meeting in Richmond with the minister of education, other officials, and school board administrators to discuss the new funding formula announced last Friday.

"I won’t be surprised if class size goes up.

"I hope it doesn’t go up significantly, but if you can manage your school by having one or two more students in each class and reducing two teachers, which is $130,000, then we are going to have to seriously look at all of these options."

Part of the reduction in funding comes from uncertainty surrounding enrolment in the district. The government is projecting Howe Sound will have 10 fewer students next year than it has this year.

But Shoup said the number will be closer to 88 fewer students.

The new funding formula not only takes into account student enrolment, but also re-vamped funding categories.

Previously there were 60 different funding categories.

Now the formula comprises a student base allocation – $5,308 – which on average accounts for 82 per cent of the district’s budget plus supplementary grants.

There are five broad categories for supplementary grants:

• Unique student needs which include special needs, English as a Second Language, aboriginal education, and adult education. Howe Sound is due to get $2,475,899.

• Declining enrolment. It must be greater than 1 per cent per year.

• Salary differentials. Howe Sound would get $863,895.

• Transportation and Housing. Howe Sound would get $760,292.

• Unique geographic factors.

Only funding for aboriginal education will continue to be required at a certain level by the government. Otherwise boards are now able to spend resources where they feel students need them most.

"Each school district has unique needs, and locally elected trustees are best able to identify and manage those priorities," said Education Minister Christy Clark.

"Our new formula will ensure greater fairness for trustees to be able to make these decisions, working together with parents and educators, rather then being directed by rigid, provincially determined criteria."

Districts which will get significantly less money under the new formula will get a buffer grant to help them adjust. Howe Sound is due to get $370,184.

"Districts that they felt were going to be in difficulty with this new funding formula got a buffer," said Shoup adding it is her understanding that this is a one time grant. There is some suggestion the buffer may be phased out to help districts adjust.

"We are getting the buffer grant so you can only assume that it is not particularly good news."

The ministry’s total budget is $4.86 billion. It will be frozen for three years and it will not cover the cost of teacher’s salary increases after this year.

And in a surprise announcement the government said a $50 million bill for capital debt is being passed down to B.C.’s 60 school districts.

Shoup said discussions are underway about how the funding dollars will be spent in this district, but they remain preliminary until the final budget is fixed in September.

"The ministry is telling us that it needs to be focused on student achievement," said Shoup.

"They are telling us that local school boards will have a lot more autonomy and a lot more flexibility to be creative... yet we will have less money to do that with.

"The bottom line is the quality of education for the students. But over the years things have been cut so much... that there is not really a lot of places you can cut further.

"Certainly I think it is going to impact education."

One way to be creative, said Shoup, is to investigate other ways to raise money for education, such as the expansion of the international student program.

Said Shoup: "Really we will just have to find more ways to be creative with less money."

Meanwhile, later this month parents, students and teachers will be invited to rate their schools in the first-ever government survey to gauge satisfaction with educational programs, administrative practices, school atmosphere and safety.

The surveys will be delivered by the ministry of education to schools next week and distributed to staff and students. They must be completed by March 28.

The surveys are to be conducted every year and are aimed at Grades 4,7 and 10, the same grades which write the Foundation Skills Assessment tests. Grade 12 will also be surveyed as they can offer a longer-term view.

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