For the second year, COVID-19 has impacted the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district finances.
Trustees unanimously passed the 2021-22 budget Wednesday, May 26, with pandemic-related expenditures making up a portion of the approximately $173-million budget.
During budget deliberations, staff recommended increasing the number of educational assistants by the equivalent of nine additional positions – one of the largest additions of EAs in the school district’s history – to increase student support post-pandemic.
This could have come at the expense of two community school coordinators, something trustees expressed concern about, but at Wednesday’s meeting, staff said adjustments were made to ensure coordinators would remain.
The district saw a marked decrease in international students the past school year due to COVID-19 restrictions, but at the meeting, Mark Walsh, secretary-treasurer, said 180 students from abroad are anticipated next year and maintaining coordinators was related to that.
“What we did was we took the 180 kids, gave the funding to mainly secondaries to be able to support them, but … kept aside a small contingency in the event that those kids didn’t come,” said Walsh. “Most of that money will flow to schools when those kids actually arrive, but it’s about [$500,000] and within that … we are very optimistic that we’re actually going to meet, and likely exceed the 180.”
Because of that, Walsh said, the district is now comfortable unlocking some of the contingency money. While most has to go to schools to support students, staff believe it can support both increased EAs as well as maintain the two coordinators.
The district saw some $6.6 million in money to deal with the pandemic last year, but the B.C. Ministry of Education stated money won’t be provided for the upcoming year, school district staff reported. An estimated $1.5 million would be required to maintain cleaning levels from this year, which staff say could be proportionately reduced in conjunction with lower levels of service.
The district said it has budgeted for regular ongoing cleaning supplies, but if increased protocols are required in September, it anticipates the ministry will provide additional money. If funding is not provided, the district anticipates sufficient reserve money to support enhanced cleaning.
The pandemic saw many families relying on the Island Connect Ed distance learning program, so much so that enrolment was capped, but it is expected many will return to physical schools come September. Adjustments will be made through subtraction of a coordinator and addition of a vice-principal. On average, 450 students go through the program annually, with 595 students projected in 2021-22, said Tim Davie, deputy superintendent, at a meeting earlier this month.
“As we’re fully aware, we saw a massive influx in numbers during the pandemic, which led to a recognition of a need, an undertaking of a significant transformation on curricular alignment for [the] program,” said Davie. “Through this work we have seen great success over the course of this past year, even during the COVID pandemic, but we recognize also, there’s a need for more administrative support to the school.”
With increased demands for information technology, the IT department reshuffled its budget to free up about $75,000, which will go toward a department manager.
Enrolment for 2021-22 is estimated to be 14,360 full-time equivalent students.
The district will receive some $2.7 million in annual facilities grant money from the province for 2021-22.