The Kootenay Lake school district may take a $705,000 hit this year due to declining enrollment because they’re just shy of qualifying for funding protection, according to secretary-treasurer Kim Morris.
“The shortened version is we have less money because of lower enrolment,” Morris informed the board Tuesday. “Don’t panic.”
Schools receive funding protection when their enrollment drops by 1.5 per cent or more, but the Kootenay Lake school district’s rate is hovering around 1.4 per cent. There will be a recount by the Ministry of Education and this decision has not been finalized, but it should be confirmed by Nov. 6.
Last year, the district had 4,702.65 full-time equivalent students. They projected a drop this year to 4,640, a decline of 62. In fact, as of Sept. 30, they had 4,654.75, about a dozen more than expected — it’s this discrepancy that bumped them below the funding protection cut-off.
This news comes on the heels of controversy surrounding an announced $2.3 million surplus left over from last year, most of which has been earmarked or re-appropriated for specific uses, such as projects that have been carried over from previous years.
The teachers’ associations have made it clear they want some of these funds to go towards staffing. Superintendent Jeff Jones told the Star it’s not necessarily that simple.
“Administration has been recommending from the very beginning that if there’s a surplus, we could use that for teaching and staffing time,” he said.
But he’s not yet sure that’s the best use, or if the funds will remain available. A number of financial variables hang in the air, including news that the 2015/16 budget is currently looking at a $132,000 shortfall.
“I call this the shifting sands of decision-making,” Jones said. “In our sector there’s always shifting sands and we have to be nimble enough to not only respond but also anticipate as much as we can,” he said.
That being said, there is $742,000 for grabs — an amount that could be effectively cancelled out if the district doesn’t receive funding protection. Jones said funneling money one direction means taking it from elsewhere.
That’s why he’s attempting to be as “transparent” and “inclusive” as possible by inviting members of the community, parents, teachers, stakeholders and senior administration to discuss their options at at the finance and operations committee of the whole meeting comprised of trustees, representatives from parents, CUPE staff and principals and vice-principals.
“We’ll hear from everyone,” he said.
One piece of potentially good news is that the number of aboriginal education students has risen, one of the only demographics in the system to see an increase.
Regardless of whether the District receives funding protection or not, its position remains essentially the same. A shortfall due to a decrease in students does impact the 15-16 budget. The unappropriated surplus from the 14-15 school year may need to be used to balance this year’s operating budget.