SUDBURY—Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) trustees were almost entirely unanimous in their support of approving the 2021-2022 school year budget that will be balanced, but with the board taking $1.6 million out of its reserves.
“There are no new updates from the draft budget set in June,” Dennis Bazinet, superintendent of business, told the RDSB board at a meeting last week. “The draft budget presentation stands with no increase in the budget.”
However, as was pointed out when the board considered the draft budget last month, Mr. Bazinet confirmed that the board would need to take $1.6 million out of its reserves to balance the budget.
“I thought I had heard the province is going to be increasing funding to boards,” said Doreen Dewar, chair of the RDSB.
Mr. Bazinet said it is hoped that this will be clarified by the ministry of education this month.
“I’m concerned with what is not included in the proposed budget,” said Trustee Anita Gibson. “As Trustee (Dena) Morrison had asked about, we are down by one superintendent if we pass this budget, and at this point there has been no announcement of funding for remote learning,” she said, pointing out that the province confirmed in May that boards must offer remote learning for the entire 2021-2022 school year. “And we still have a deficit. And I’m concerned about the size of the deficit. How long can we sustain deficits if we continue to run at the same level?”
Mr. Bazinet explained, “essentially as of August 2022 we will still have $5.2 million in reserve. We go through three financial cycles every year, this in June, then actual enrolment in November and a revised budget in December and then we do our year end financials. Over the past four or five years we have added to our reserve.”
Mr. Bazinet said it is too early to hit the panic button, as a lot of things can change once the board sees enrolment figures in September or October. At that time the board will see actual costs related primarily to teaching staff numbers.
The RDSB expects students to be in class, in person, come September. However, if a student cannot attend in person due to personal health concerns, a remote learning remote program will be considered, Director of Education Norm Blaseg said in a memo to parents and guardians last week. He pointed out the board is anticipating more information from the Ministry of Education on its expectations later this month and that there will be an opportunity later for parents to take part in a survey regarding their choice of delivery mode to students for the next school year after that.
“By October we will have better information, especially on the elementary school panel enrolment numbers and total costs for staffing,” said Mr. Bazinet. He told the trustees no permanent teaching staff have been assigned to remote learning, and that during this past school year, during the peak of the pandemic, some of the board’s permanent staff were reassigned to work at the virtual elementary school “That would be a similar approach we would take in September, as a result of what the distribution of the student population works out to be.”
Mr. Bazinet also said the board has access to $2.2 million in grant monies provided by the province that it can use to boost its staffing levels with long-term occasional teachers to support remote learning.
Ms. Gibson asked Mr. Bazinet, “are you concerned that the decrease in elementary school enrolment could be lower than is already anticipated, especially considering we may be making the remote learning harder to access in September?”
“Enrolment figures are one of the major risk factors we have in preparing our budget,” said Mr. Bazinet. “Naturally this is always a concern, our enrolment numbers are always done in consultation with the schools and hopefully we will see an increase in enrolment.”
The board is anticipating a decrease of 86 students at the elementary level, and an increase of 69.5 students in the secondary school panel. A loss of 86 elementary students would see a funding loss of approximately $860,000 for the board from the province.
Manitoulin trustees Margaret Stinger and Linda Debassige put forward the motion and seconded it, as the board approved the 2021-2022 school year budget. The vote of board trustees was unanimous except for Trustee Anita Gibson who opposed the motion.