Money saved in teacher wages and benefits during the three-day strike last month will stay in the district, but a funding shortfall in the operating budget is still expected.
The Education Ministry announced Monday it is doubling the Learning Improvement Fund, a special fund to help districts deal with complex classroom composition issues, to $60 million from $30 million next year, using the strike savings.
The ministry estimates that provincewide, districts saved $37 million. The remaining $7 million will also stay in school districts to be used as school boards see fit.
Phil Turin, secretary-treasurer, said the majority of Nanaimo’s strike savings – about $750,000 – will go into its Learning Improvement Fund, which will double to almost $1.5 million. The remaining savings, around $167,000, will remain in the district’s operating budget, to be carried over to next year.
But Turin still expects a shortfall of about $1.6 million for next year’s budget – his prediction after the operating grant amounts were released last month – because the Learning Improvement Fund is separate from the operating budget.
“There will be a difference between revenue and expenses,” said Turin. “We’re getting less money, but the expenditures are not going down. I’ll stick with $1.6 million.”
The Learning Improvement Fund is to spent on: hiring additional teachers and special education assistants; providing additional teaching time; and supporting professional development and training to help teachers meet complex needs in their classrooms.
Turin said the district will put together a plan to spend the money in that special fund, which will be approved by the school board by the end of the school year.
The regular budget process is moving forward and he will deliver recommendations from staff on how to balance the budget next week.
Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said the district can only use the LIF money after trustees have approved an operating budget and staffed based on that budget.
“There’s no question it’s going to be useful, but it has to be focused,” he said. “The good news is it’s going to result in more hirings of teachers and education assistants.”
The bad news, Brennan added, is the district’s budget situation is expected to get much worse in the next few years, as enrolment and funding both decline.
“The secretary-treasurer has been fairly blunt with me in telling me we have to get our house in order,” he said. “We’re kind of living on borrowed money.”