The North Okanagan-Shuswap school district is facing financial strain in a year beset by challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter shared by communications staff Friday, Oct. 9, Superintendent Peter Jory said a combination of factors related to funding and enrolment have plunged School District 83 into a deficit of more than $2 million, leading to staff reductions that are expected to continue.
This comes after roughly 300 students opted to take part in the Education Outreach Program (EOP), the district’s online education program that was previously available only to high school students but was reopened for students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 this year.
The deficit comes despite overall funded enrolment at 98.6 per cent of the district’s projections for the year.
“This should be considered a success, and I believe that this number puts us ahead of many other districts in the province during this unique pandemic context,” Jory states in the letter.
The financial issue stems from three factors which have come to light over recent weeks. The first is a reduction in student-based funding as a result of having lost 98 students, along with the lower level of funding generated by students in an online program.
“The second part is the realization that a disproportionate number of students who did not return were students with funded Individualized Education Plans, so our Inclusive Education Department is facing a significant funding reduction,” Jory said.
The third factor concerns the Classroom Enhancement Fund (CEF) that was set up as a result of a 2017 Supreme Court decision to assist schools with restoring class size and composition limits. Jory said SD83 has received $6 million from the CEF annually, but the reduction in students this year has meant the district no longer qualifies for the grant in several of its schools.
In response to the challenges, senior staff made plans to reduce the number of teachers in schools that have enough empty seats to do so, while still fulfilling contractual staffing requirements. Jory says more staff will have to be reduced, and some previously approved programs will have to be reconsidered.
SD83 will consider offsetting staff reductions by using some of its share of the $242 million in federal funding that was earmarked for the reopening of B.C. schools.