Cowichan Valley School District enrolment stable

School trustees have to fit many unknowns into their budget talks this year, but at least declining enrolment is not a concern.

Cowichan Valley school trustees have to fit many unknowns into their budget talks this year, but at least declining enrolment is not a concern.

“Student enrolment is the primary factor determining the number of staff to employ, the number of classrooms and schools that are required, and how much funding the district receives from the Ministry of Education,” said district secretary-treasurer Jason Sandquist in a report to the board of education.

After years of enrolment decline the number of school age students attending School District 79 has begun to stabilize, he said, estimating that for 2017/18 there will be an increase of 44 FTE (full time equivalent) students. But there is a lot more to consider.

“The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of B.C. teachers and returned class size limits, class composition and specialist teacher ratios to 2002 levels. The provincial government and the federation are currently bargaining on those provisions. The full implications of the settlement are not yet known but the school district can expect additional teaching positions will be required.

“The implication of lower class sizes and restrictions on composition will require additional classroom space. In addition to teaching time, there may be a requirement for additional custodial, clerical supports, administration, classroom furniture and supplies. The provincial process to cover these costs will not be known until bargaining concludes,” Sandquist said.

And there are more financial factors facing trustees as they attempt to build a budget.

CUPE and USW employees are entitled to a 0.5 per cent salary increase effective July 1, 2017 and a further one per cent plus “economic stability dividend” on May 1, 2018, Sandquist said, although he added, “it is anticipated that funding will be received to cover these additional costs.”

In addition, “the number of special needs designations in expected to increase again in 2017/18. This will result in the need for additional non-enrolling specialist teachers and education assistants. Funding is generated in both the September and February enrolment counts to assist in covering these staffing costs. Principals, vice-principals, and other employees not covered by a collective agreement may also be entitled to compensation increases in the 2017/18 school year.”

Other challenges facing the board are dealing with an increasing average teacher salary as the teaching population gets further education and years of service mount up.

Trustees also must deal with a four per cent BC Hydro increase, which is effective April 1, with another 3.5 per cent increase coming on April 1, 2018. A promise of a PST phase-out may help with these extra costs but it would not take effect until Oct. 1.

A further problem for trustees is building money into the system to cover technology upgrades.

“The last two budget years have seen a reduction of $100,000 from the allocation for technology services… the board may wish to consider additional funds in this area,” Sandquist said.

The board will be considering its options and talking to its partners and the public in coming weeks.